Texting and driving don’t mix

Kat Drinkwater

I need technology like a four-year-old needs cotton candy. It may just be a really strong desire, but it sure feels like a requirement.

When Gmail went down last week, I could only think of all the things I couldn’t do without it. When I go back to my home county, with its telephone co-op that blocks out all major carriers, I feel a physical loss with the absence of my signal bars. I need to be able to get in touch with anyone at any time, which is why I think nothing of calling someone when I’m on the road. But now that’s changing as cell phone laws already present in other states creep into others.

Six states already ban hand-held cell phones for all drivers, and 18 others ban text messaging.

The restriction here in Texas has some caveats that prevent it from being used in full effect. The greatest of which is, in order to ticket drivers for the offense, signs must be posted outside the school zone. Despite the small scope of the restriction, the law has met a frosty reception. Still, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

For one thing, there is that memorable “Mythbusters” episode where they demonstrated talking on a cell phone was more impairing than driving a little bit drunk. However, despite its precedent for mostly foolproof and highly entertaining tests, that experiment had a lot of flaws. Fortunately, slightly more reliable research has been conducted elsewhere.

In 2001, the University of Utah demonstrated hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as hand-held ones. A study published in 2006 found people were as impaired while talking on a cell phone as when driving with a .08 percent blood alcohol count. The drivers on cells were slower to brake than in their control runs, and the following distance varied wildly as their attention to the road and car in front of them faded in and out. In fact, the only wrecks during the experimental test drives occurred when drivers were on cell phones, not when they had been drinking.

Perhaps the most important results to come from the Utah studies were published in 2008, with tests that compared conversations with a passenger to the same conversation held on a hands-free cell phone. It’s a common misconception that it’s the message and not the medium that distracts the driver, an eventuality that was notably not tested on “Mythbusters.”

The results are clear, although talking to a passenger had virtually no impact on driving, talking on a cell phone impaired drivers’ ability to stay in their own lane and made them four times more likely to miss the destination.

In the end, it’s really a simple issue. Talking on a cell phone, no matter if it’s hands-free or hand-held, seriously impairs your ability to drive. We all know that drunk driving is a foolish and reckless act that endangers not only the driver, but everyone else on the road. It’s time talking on a cell phone took on that same stigma.

I’ll be the first to say that I really like my phone, and I’m going to be annoyed by not using it, even just in school zones. But, like that 4-year-old with the cotton candy, I don’t actually need technology every minute to survive, and too much can be a very bad thing.

This story was originally published by the Texas A&M Battalion. Content was made available by Uwire.com.