I have spent 10 years of my career as a car insurance agent in Milford New Hampshire. During this time, I have seen many injuries and fatalities resulting from car accidents. One would think that this fact alone would be enough for me to consider the effects of cell phone usage while driving, but it has not.
It was not until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended an outright ban on cell phone usage while driving did I take pause and really think about this issue.
I am a busy working mother who admittedly is always using a cell phone while driving trying to utilize every spare moment of my day. I regularly see the hazards a cell phone can cause as I drive down Rt. 101 in Milford and see the teenage boy yelling into his phone and drifting over the double yellow line, or the distracted mother with two hands on the top of the steering wheel texting as she weaves down the school's driveway in Nashua NH, but does this digital oblivion apply to me?
As it is typical for me to justify my actions with a sophomoric “everyone else does it” mentality, I began my reflection by asking my co-workers their opinions on this issue. Of the eleven co-workers who replied, nine talk on the phone while driving, but only two think that it is acceptable behavior.
As changing a habitual behavior is extremely difficult, I decided to look at the statistics to convince me that not using my cell phone while driving is worth it.
Looking at the NHTSA web site, cell-phone usage is lumped into a “distracted driving” category which includes activities like texting, using cell/smart phone, grooming, talking to passengers, using a GPS, etc.
The statistics are based on the latest figures available:
- In 2009 there were 33,808 vehicle-related fatalities in the US. 16% of these involved distracted driving.
- In 2010 there were 128 vehicle-related fatalities in New Hampshire. Unpublished data on accidents involving distracted driving.
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children 3 – 14 nationwide.
- 5,505,000 car accidents were reported to the police in 2009 with 2,217,000 injuries in the US.
- Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%.
- Drivers who use hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
- Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.
Looking at these numbers and reflecting on my experience as a car insurance agent and cell phone user, I realize that the cause of car accidents and injury is not reported accurately. I am sure that the cause of an accident based on cell phone usage is extremely under-reported with the true number being much higher.
As I rush around from work to bus stop to daycare, do I really want to risk the safety of my children or myself for a phone call or email that I easily went without seven years ago during the pre-cell phone days? What if I injured or killed someone just to talk to someone else?
Though I do not believe any branch of government will actually be able to enforce a ban on cell phone usage, sometimes it takes the threat of taking something away for me to consider the consequences.
In the end, I will do my best to think about the lives lost to distracted driving and also be alert to the drivers drifting into my lane while chatting away. Maybe with a little thought and consideration, we will all be a little safer.