While driving her blue Ford Focus on a drizzly February evening, a driver picked up her cell phone to answer a call. A few seconds into the conversation she felt the left wheel of her car knock against something. Several minutes later she grabbed her phone again to reply to a text message and felt something roll under the car. Seven calls and six texts later, she was finally done with her drive.
Luckily the obstacles the driver was hitting were only traffic cones in an abandoned parking lot. The driving simulation was set up by Kettering police officer Jeff Caldwell- an experiment he’s administered several times before. Caldwell also works as a training manager at Professional Driving Systems Driving School (PDS), and is one of many individuals who stress the importance of distraction-free driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes happen within three seconds of some form of driver distraction. Sinclair’s Administrative Lieutenant Scott Fowler said examples of these distractions include fiddling with the radio, applying make-up, GPS systems, and you guessed it- using a cell phone.
NHSTA reports that of the approximated 54 percent of drivers who typically have cell phones in their vehicles, 73 percent use them while driving. A CNN study suggested that six percent of car accidents are caused due to cell phone use, resulting in annual financial costs up to $43 billion.
Caldwell believes the risk in cell phone use is inattention. “I would venture to say that almost half of the people I write for speeding are talking on their phones,” said Caldwell. “They get so engaged in their conversations that they just forget. They’re not there.”
Sinclair student Austin Krohn, however, doesn’t believe talking on the phone is any different than carrying on a conversation with a passenger. “I think the mental processes are the same whether the conversation is on the phone, or with someone sitting next to you,” said Krohn. “If it’s dangerous to have a conversation while driving, then in theory all cars should be one-person cars.”
Texting, in contrast, seems to be a different story. “Texting is horrid,” said Caldwell. He breaks it down like this: At an average speed of 30 mph, a driver travels approximately 45 feet per second. This means for every second a driver spends looking at his/her phone, they travel 45 feet. If a driver takes only 15 seconds to send a text, they travel 675 feet. As a result, the driver drove the length of about two and a half football fields without looking up.
Krohn admits to sending texts while driving, but he doesn’t do it anymore. “I caught myself not paying attention and drifting in between lanes while texting,” Krohn said. “One near miss is all I need to realize it’s not worth it.”
Even though many people seem to dismiss statistics about distracted driving, the topic has caught the attention of the government. Six states, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah, and Washington, have banned the use of hand-held cellular devices while driving, and several more are considering the idea.
However, until a law is enforced, there will still be people using cell phones behind the wheel. For these people, Caldwell offered a piece of advice. He motioned first to the cell phone in his hand, and then to himself as he said, “Just try to ask yourself; Is this a life or death situation, or is this a life of death situation?”