Distracted driving killed more than 3,000 Americans in 2010. Three thousand.
Grooming, eating, singing -- all take our focus off guiding thousands of pounds of steel through traffic. But we know the most dangerous type of distracted driving: Texting.
When texting, we take our eyes off the road for an average of five seconds at a time. And all the while, our cars keep moving. If you're driving 55 mph, you travel the length of a football field during that five seconds. Braking to a stop from 55 requires about 360 feet. If something surprising happens in front of you, you'd better hope it's a very long way ahead of you or you're going to hit it.
Last year 11% of all U.S. crashes were attributed to cell phone use. That's 1.3 million accidents. One in four Americans text behind the wheel. And about six in ten talk on the phone.
Presumably, those facts should be more than enough to break this dangerous habit. Don't count on it.
In 2009, the Pew Research Center found that 40% of all American teens reported being in a car when the driver used a phone in a way that put people in danger. Today 77% of teens own phones, sending and receiving an average of 167 text messages a day. How many calls and texts happen while driving is unknown, but 13% of drivers aged 18 to 20 admit to texting or talking at the time of an accident.
In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban on personal electronic devices while driving. Today, 39 out of 50 U.S. states have banned texting while driving. And driving and talking on a hand-held phone is outlawed in 10 states, including my native California.
Still, look out your window. I'm confident it won't take long to catch someone behind the wheel, head down, texting.
I'm Guilty -- And I'm Scared
I do it, too. I try to wait until I'm at a red light to text, but the fact is, I don't always. And recently, some close calls have made me wake up to just how deadly it can be.
That's why I'm writing this post. I'm fed up. I live in Los Angeles, arguably the global capital of car culture. Everyone drives. Most of them do so poorly.
A few weeks ago I was almost struck by a distracted driver. I was trying to cross the street on foot. The woman behind the wheel didn't notice me or her red light. I literally had to jump out of the way. What was she doing to make her lose focus of the two-ton steel weapon she drove? Oh, yeah. Texting on her smartphone.
Yesterday I saw an accident while I walked to put money into my parking meter. It was one of those crashes that you can hear down the block. A friend and I rushed over to see if the people involved needed any help, hoping they wouldn't. Luckily when we got there, a shaken elderly Asian couple who'd been driving a now-smashed Lexus were out of the car, pacing in the middle of the intersection. A few feet away a front bumper and crushed glass lay in the street. Another car had hit them head on, then bolted. Hit and run.
It wasn't clear exactly what happened as we didn't have a clear view, but since the offending car went through a red light, distracted driving was definitely a possibility. The older man and woman looked rattled. I wasn't sure who was the driver and who was the passenger, but the woman had a phone to her ear as she walked beside her damaged car. I didn't think that call caused the accident, but I wasn't sure.
Maybe you're thinking this would never happen to you. You're more responsible than that. You barely take your eyes off the road. You're safe.
Don't wait to become a statistic.
Just. Put. Down. The. Phone.
Text at the red light if you absolutely have to. Or just wait until you get where you're going. God forbid we should exist a few minutes without communicating.