According to United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, distracted driving is "a deadly epidemic".
Distracted driving involves any activity that takes a driver's attention from the task at hand - safely driving the vehicle. There are numerous activities that can distract a driver while behind the wheel, including eating, personal grooming (applying makeup), talking with passengers, changing the radio station or cd, using a GPS, and talking on the phone. However, arguably the most dangerous distraction is reading or writing text messages.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that there are three main types of distraction:
- Visual (taking eyes off the road)
- Manual (removing hand(s) from the steering wheel)
- Cognitive (not concentrating on driving)
The reason that texting while driving is so dangerous is that it involves all three types of distractions.
According to NHTSA statistics, there were nearly 5,500 fatalities and approximately 448,000 injuries in car accidents resulting from distracted driving in 2009. Of those, an estimated 995 of the fatalities were a result of cell phone use (talking or texting). Further, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) claims that drivers using a handheld device, such as a cell phone, are four times more likely than other drivers to be involved in an accident.
Because of these dangers, Secretary LaHood's tenure has been highlighted by several initiatives bringing awareness to and trying to prevent distracted driving. Now, automobile manufacturers, including Ford and BMW, are also attempting to bring awareness to the dangers of texting and other distractions while driving. According to an article in the Times Union, Ford and BMW have begun to offer anti-distracted driving programs (BMW's is aimed at curbing texting while behind the wheel).
However, the article notes that while these automobile manufacturers are offering these programs, they are also offering new vehicles with an ever-increasing amount of distraction. Many of the technologies (many of which are voice activated) included in new vehicles allow drivers to talk, text or update their Facebook status while driving. Manufacturers claim that because these systems are built in (and not hands-free) they are safer because a driver does not need to remove his or her eyes from the road (at least for very long).
As much as people may want to believe these new technologies are safer, they still required the driver to engage in at least one of the three types of distraction.