Texting Your Life Away

By  //  June 30, 2012

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Traffic Safety

(VIDEO: CarandDriver)

SPACE COAST MEDICINE–Remember a time without cellular phones and wireless Internet? The past two decades have seen historic changes in how we communicate and acquire information.  For better or worse, cell phones, lap tops, high-speed internet, “smart-phones” and tablet computers have brought the world together in almost unimaginable ways.  While the new technologies may make “multi-tasking” possible, the price is often pressure on our ability to focus on specific tasks.

Controlling A Ton Of Steel Requires Focus

Distractions behind the wheel, many of which are related to cell phone use and texting, are responsible for accidents that lead to over 6,000 deaths annually. (Shutterstock Image)

One of the most critical tasks of daily living today is driving.  There are few things in everyday life that require more focus and concentration than moving over a ton of steel down a road at speeds that were inconceivable only a century ago.   Staying focused on the road has been a concern since the days of Henry Ford and the Model T, but today the lure of text messaging adds a new dimension of danger.

Cell Use and Especially Texting Behind the Wheel Can Be Fatal 

The threat of texting behind the wheel is tragically real.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 6,000 deaths and a half a million injuries are caused by distracted drivers every year, with cell phone use responsible for 19% of fatal accidents and 6% of total injuries. Sadly younger drivers are those most likely to text and drive.  Surveys have indicated that while over a quarter of mobile phone users have texted while driving, nearly half of all drivers in that category are in their late teens or twenties.  Most worrisome of all, 3 in 5 teenagers reported that they have texted while driving.

Perhaps no rule is more important than keeping your “eye on the road.” Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old. (Shutterstock Image)

Perhaps no rule is more important than keeping your “eye on the road.” Texting lures an individual to look away from the road, making it one of the most dangerous distractions of all behind the wheel.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, texting and driving makes one up to twenty times more likely to be involved in a car crash.  A recent University of Utah study tested a driver’s ability to text and drive in a simulator.  Not surprisingly, texting and driving led to slower response times and a higher rate of crashes.

It has also been found that while teenagers are texting, they spend about 10 percent of the time outside the driving lane they’re supposed to be in, and talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old. Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds–at 55 miles per hour that is enough time to travel the length of a football field.

HRMC Trauma Team Committed To Driving Safety Education

The Trauma Center at Holmes Regional all too often sees the tragic results of distracted driving.  The Space Coast’s only Trauma Center is dedicated to saving and improving lives in our community, and, as part of these efforts, Health First is on the forefront of efforts to highlight the dangers of texting and driving.   We are committed to heightening the awareness of and educate on how this seemingly harmless activity can bring real danger into our everyday lives.

Features and apps are available that lock down specific phone functions and redirect calls to voicemail while driving.

Avoiding the temptation of texting and driving can be a life or death decision.  All of us need to remember that the primary focus of any driver should be the road before them.  Texting, chatting on the phone or checking email should only be done when a car is safely parked, or not at all.

If you are having trouble resisting the temptation, try putting your cell phone in the glove compartment.  Out of sight very often means out of mind, and in this case can lead to a much safer drive.  There are also new “apps” available for smart phones that help to “curb the urge” to text and drive.

Parents Should Be Role Models

Parents of teenage drivers should be especially aware of the risks related to texting and driving. Teaching and demonstrating good habits to the youngest drivers can avert tragedy for a lifetime. Families should talk about the dangers of texting and driving and set clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior behind the wheel.  Above all, be a role model.  We should all remember to set an example to others by not engaging in texting and driving ourselves.

Texting and Driving Regulated By Law In 29 States

Texting while driving statutes in the United States Color key: RED--Banned for all drivers; YELLOW--Banned for new drivers; GRAY--No statute (Wikipedia Image)

Texting while driving has been outlawed or is soon to be outlawed for all drivers in 29 states and the district of Columbia. In Florida, a proposed bill known as “Heather’s Law” that would ban all cell phone use while driving was first proposed in 2009. The law was inspired by the death of Heather Hurd, who was killed in an accident allegedly caused by a truck driver who crashed into 10 cars when he was sending a text message behind the wheel.  However, the Florida Legislature once again adjourned without producing a single distracted driving law. The 2012 bill with the most traction was Sen. Nancy Detert’s plan to ban texting & driving, which advanced through four votes in the Senate, but could not get enough global support for passage.

For many, texting can be both a fun and useful way to stay in touch.  However, the opportunities to stay connected by texting should never be at the expense of our own safety and those of others with whom we share the road.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Pappas

Dr. Peter A. Pappas MD is a Trauma Surgeon with the Trauma Center at Holmes Regional Medical Center.  Originally from Orlando, Dr. Pappas attended medical school and did his General Surgery residency at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and completed fellowship in Surgical Critical Care and Trauma at Orlando Regional Medical Center.  He is board certified in General Surgery and Surgical Critical Care and has an active interest in research, education and injury prevention.


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