I see it every day in traffic, I see it while stopped at a red light, and I see it while driving on the interstate: lots of people around me are looking down at their phones while driving. I know you see it too, and neither of us should be surprised when this leads to a car wreck.
Wrecks happen when a driver is distracted. If a driver decides to look down and read an email or type a text message, that driver is deciding to ignore the safety of the surrounding drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. This decision happens a lot, and the results are predictable. In 2014, there were 3,179 people killed and an estimated 431,000 injured in car wrecks involving distracted drivers.
We hope everyone around us drives carefully. Driving carefully does not mean looking at a smartphone every few seconds. We may think that no one will get hurt because we are just glancing at our phones and are not really distracted, but think about this: five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When driving at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded!
Mobile phones can be taken everywhere, and lots of us bring them into our cars and trucks. As a result, most of the drivers around you every day have a smartphone with them. Smartphones, with their touch screens, addictive Apps, and internet access, are a new and powerful distraction.
Although these devices help connect us with our family, friends, and the rest of the world, they often take us away from what’s happening right in front of us. Driving can be dangerous if we do not pay attention. That is what makes smartphone usage in cars and trucks so alarming.
Smartphones are not just for making phone calls and sending texts. They are popular, in part, because we use them to read emails, watch videos, and look at Apps like Facebook or Snapchat. These activities are more distracting than making a phone call.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans now own a smartphone. This is a sharp increase from the 35% of Americans who owned a smartphone in 2011. Many of us can no longer imagine our work or social lives without one. With the increase in phone ownership, there is also increased phone use while driving. In fact, at any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
If it sounds impossible to stop using smartphones while driving, that illustrates the problem. People may believe they can be cautious and continue checking their phones from time to time while driving, or that they do it more safely than others do. The truth remains that there would be far fewer wrecks if drivers did not check social media or read emails while driving. My hope is that we all recognize the danger, use common sense, and protect each other while driving. If we choose to ignore the glow of the smartphone screen while driving, we will be choosing to have safer roads for ourselves and those around us.