PSA: Friends don't let friends drive and text

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while. Let me just get it out there, in all my inflammatory, scare-tactic glory:


Yeah, it is.

And it's not exactly a surprise that it's dangerous in the first place. The whole introduction to a telephone in the car hasn't been the best idea we've ever had. Wasn't applying makeup and swatting at the kids enough?

Mechanics of Attention:

You all know that sensation of chatting with a friend in the car and looking back up to the road and not really remembering the past few miles. That's because language – talking and listening, including on a cell phone – interferes with visual tasks, such as driving. Add having to also visualize the person, as on a cell phone, and we've now split our mental resources even more and that leaves even less for paying attention to our surroundings. It's a lethal combination, killing, some say, up to 2600 people a year, and that's a number from 2002. Do you really need to complete that call? Is it worth it?

Chatting And Driving

Talking on a cell phone makes a 20 year old's reactions about on par with that of a 70 year old's.

Yeah, for real. And it gets even better.

A University of Utah study found that:
  • Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.
  • Drivers drunk at the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level drove a bit more slowly than both undistracted drivers and drivers using cell phones, yet more aggressively. They followed the pace car more closely, were twice as likely to brake only four seconds before a collision would have occurred, and hit their brakes with 23 percent more force. “Neither accident rates, nor reaction times to vehicles braking in front of the participant, nor recovery of lost speed following braking differed significantly” from undistracted drivers, the researchers write.

“Impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk,” they conclude.

So, you might as well have a glass of wine (or two, or however many it takes to get you to .08) and hop in the car with your kids. It's about the same. And of course, as a responsible, super safe parent, you'd never swig a glass of wine and jump behind the wheel.

And here's the thing, I don't think I'm telling you anything you haven't already read, experienced first hand, or thought about yourself regarding your cell phone. What you may not know is that texting while driving exceeds even these deplorable stats.

Might As Well Drive Blindfolded:

Currently, the number of deaths caused by texting while driving are anecdotal, but increasing nonetheless. We all read about the train conductor who ran his train afoul while texting. His intense need to text ultimately killed 25 people. Like so many others (like her or him or these guys) who are simply not paying attention to anything but their little hand held device and they end up ruining their lives and taking someone else's.

Study after study find that texting lengthens response times significantly more than just talking on the phone or even being inebriated or high. In my opinion, I might as well drive blindfolded; I'd have about the same luck.

Texting and drinking aren't even in the same category of vices other than they seem to invoke a loss of self control: alcohol, by nature, and texting/phoning, by design. We blame the drunk driver, yet understand that a normally smart, responsible person is devoid of those traits while drinking. What's the texter's excuse? He had to let his wife know he was going to be late or she'd divorce him? I mean, really. We need to reevaluate how we communicate with the people in our lives if instant communication has become the standard.

What's To Be Done?

So far,
Seven states have banned text messaging for all drivers: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. The District of Columbia also bans all drivers from text-messaging.

In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in nine states: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

School bus drivers are banned from text messaging in Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

For more state-by-state information on cell-phone laws, see Cell Phone Laws.
Hands-Free Is Safer, Right??

Wrong. You may have use of both of your hands now, which is a slight improvement, but you're still using most of your mental energy for the call, not the driving. In the war for your attention, the conversation naturally wins out. It's just how we're wired.

A researcher recently surveyed
... current scientific research on cellphone use, showing that talking on the phone, regardless of phone type, has negative impacts on performance, especially when the driver is confronted by complex or unpredictable situations. Performance while using a hands-free phone was rarely found to be better than that using a hand-held phone.
Some studies found drivers compensate for the harmful effects of cellphone use when using a hand-held phone—by driving slower or pulling over to finish a call—but neglect to do so when using a hands-free phone.
Oy. I know a lot of states require a hands-free device, but that's still not enough.

What To Do?

Again, I think it's common sense and here's my extensive, very complicated list on what should be done about it:
  • Turn your phone OFF, don't even have it on so you might be tempted to answer a call or a text.
  • Keep it in place that's not convenient, and oh yeah, turn it OFF.
  • Tell anyone and everyone who might be texting, Tweeting, FBing, emailing, calling, or otherwise trying to reach you that you have a rule: I TURN MY PHONE OFF WHEN DRIVING, THEREFORE I WILL GET BACK TO YOU WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO.
  • If you are going to use your phone for good (i.e., report the domestic abuse you just witnessed, or the writhing deer or gopher in the ditch) pull over first. Then turn your phone back OFF.
  • Threaten your teens, who are more likely to text while driving since texting is a second language with most, with certain death (no pun intended) if they decide to text while driving or otherwise use their phone while driving. Then tell them to TURN IT OFF.
  • Really challenge yourself to unplug for the time in your car. Turn YOURSELF off. It's a treat.
I'm not perfect and I don't claim to follow my own rules all the time, but I WANT TO. I was one of the last people I know to hold out on the cell phone thing, so communicating in the car was usually kept to a person to person activity or me singing along to the radio up until fairly recently.

I admit that it is a sexy thing to keep in touch and up to date constantly on all things social (which is another post entirely). But please, PLEASE, stop. It could ruin your life, your baby's, someone else's baby's. You could be responsible for someone's death because you had to tell a friend you just bought an awesome pair of shoes on sale. Just think about it.

And to my friends, I am no longer going to chat with you if you're driving. It's because I love you.

Note: While trying to find an image for this post I Googled "texting while driving" and clicked on Images. I inadvertently saw one of the most gruesome things I've ever seen of a person's (sex was unidentifiable) mangled bottom half being held by two rescue workers. I mention this only because I want this to become real to people. Not just some chick ranting on and on and including a dozen links. I had to cover the image with my hand while I tried to click away, but it was too late. I'll never forget that image.)


  1. Okay, well said, and great post. I should know better. I tweet way too often while I'm driving, and when I'm stuck in traffic, etc. And I have looked up to suddenly notice the car in front of me has slammed on the brakes... I am prone to accidents, so I should especially not be texting/tweeting while driving. Especially when my boys are in the car with me! Thank you for this post, seriously. Sometimes people just need a good wake up call, you know? (I commented a few seconds ago, but something happened, so I think I lost it - if it did come to you, just delete it and use this as it's basically the same comment!)

  2. I was surprised to see Virginia listed on your states with texting bans. Confused really. So then I did some research and found that it only took effect 2 weeks ago on 7/1/09. Oddly, I haven't seen ANY coverage of this law change - so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. 1) I have enjoyed giving you grief for nearly 20 years Jess, so I have to keep it flowing.
    2) yeah I begrudgingly agree that most any cell/PDA interaction makes one (including me) less responsive.
    3) but I think my 3 kids in the car are way the heck more distracting. Can we ban them, or at least their arguing and bitching? Who hasn't reached back to try and blot a barfing kid, or pick up a spilling "anti sippy" cup, juice box, or ice cream?
    4) how about people with their 110 degree coffees at their lips or in their crotch ( I don't drink coffee)?
    5) how about people with glowing embers 1 inch from their face (cigs), or an open flame 2 inches away (while lighting)?!?

    I agree we might as well cut out all of the distraction that we can, I just need to sedate my kids then also. They are already petrified about their seatbelts, and turning on their dome light at night. I need to scare them away from arguing, screaming, spilling, fighting, and crying ... and maybe I would stand a chance.

  4. Tom - you are too funny. My whole point is that talking/using a phone requires us to use more brain capacity than it does for when we're communicating with people IN the car. It has to do with us automatically visualizing who we're talking to (when we're talking) and the complex thought processes involved (when texting).

    So keep swatting at the kids. Just don't do it with your phone in your hand. :)