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Better Driver

Texting and driving: teens not getting the message Add to ...

As more and more jurisdictions enact legislation banning cellphone use while driving, many drivers are reverting to texting as a means of communicating while at the wheel.

After all, you can't see this activity. The phone or your hand are not up beside your head for all to see. Instead, your attention is even further from the road in front of you.

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Not only is there growing concern about this new practice, principally among the tech-savvy younger generation, there is research to prove how prominent it has become. The results of one of the more recent and in-depth studies indicates that while statistics and experts indicate the results of texting while driving can be just as severe as driving while drunk, many teens don't see it that way.

A survey, conducted across the United States this summer by Harris Interactive on behalf of State Farm Insurance Co., showed teens do not place the same degree of danger on texting as they do drinking.

Harris found that 36 per cent of 14- to 17-year-olds who have or intend to get a driving licence strongly agree that texting while driving could result in a life-threatening crash. But 55 per cent of the same group strongly agrees that drinking while driving would have similar results.

The survey also showed they think the chances of becoming involved in a crash are higher while under the influence of alcohol than while texting. The survey showed 78 per cent think they could have a crash if they drink and drive, but only 63 per cent see that happening while texting.

While obvious, it is even more frightening that those who admit to texting while driving see it as less of a problem - 73 per cent of teens who say they have never texted while at the wheel feel that would result in a crash, but only 52 per cent of those who admit to texting at the wheel see the same risk.

"Some teens still think the consequences of reaching for a cellphone are less severe than reaching for a beer bottle," says Laurette Stiles, vice-president of strategic resources at State Farm. "We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to helping teens understand that texting while driving can be every bit as dangerous as drinking while driving. It's an awareness gap that must be addressed."

The survey also showed that these young folks think they have a better chance of avoiding a crash while texting than if under the influence of alcohol. More of them - 55 per cent versus 36 per cent - feel that their reactions could save them, help them avoid a crash when texting versus drinking while driving.

Their faith in their reflexes and reaction times is not borne out by the facts. Tests conducted by the U.K.-based Transportation Research Laboratory (TRL) involving 17- to 24-year-olds showed that texting can actually be more dangerous.

TRL found that the reaction time of drivers of that age were reduced by 35 per cent while typing a message on a hand-held device compared to 12 per cent with a blood alcohol content at the legal limit. The University of Utah conducted similar tests among the 22- to 34-year-old age group with similar results - only this test compared talking on a cellphone with driving while under the influence.

Driver distraction is a hot topic these days - it has always been a traffic safety problem - but the emergence of cellphones and a generation of drivers who regularly use and rely on them have raised crashes and concerns to new levels.

Adding to the problem is the fact traffic volume is much greater and the drivers most likely to engage in this dangerous practice are relatively inexperienced. Any activity that takes the driver's eyes or mind off the task of driving can have deadly consequences.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

 

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