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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Monday, July 06 2020 @ 05:08 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Monday, July 06 2020 @ 05:08 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Text messaging adds to growing accident statistics of 'inattentive' drivers

It takes only a few seconds to send a text message. Flip open the cell phone, tap some keys, spell out a few words, and hit "send."

But try doing all that while driving. It's not easy.

"You're not supposed to read or put your makeup on while driving a car, either, but people do it," said Ashley Saari, 23, who said she frequently sends text messages while she's driving in Southern California.Saari knows it might be dangerous, but she takes her chances. "Especially when I'm stuck in traffic, I text and drive," she said. "Usually half the time I give up and I'll just call the person and say, 'Sorry, I can't text you, I almost got in an accident."

Same goes for fellow Hermosa Beach, Calif., resident Rey Garnica. A 27-year-old engineer, Garnica sends text messages while commuting to his office. "It may be dangerous, but it's dangerous for two seconds as opposed to having a long conversation," he said. "A text seems so simple that it seems that you should be able to do it whenever and wherever."

But maybe you shouldn't.

Research has consistently shown cell phone use to be a dangerous endeavor for drivers. A 2003 study by the University of Utah found talking on the phone while driving causes the same impairments as driving drunk.

In addition, a study conducted by the Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that people using a cell phone while driving were four times more likely to get into an accident.

But because text messaging is a newer phenomenon, having become popular in the past two to three years, drivers' safety studies have focused on using the phone to talk, not to send messages. So which is worse?

Without concrete data to go on, researchers such as Steven Yantis, a cognitive psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, ventured a guess.

"Common sense would tell me that (texting) would be worse because you have to look away from the road," he said.

Yantis is an expert in multitasking. His research has centered on what happens in the brain when people try to pay attention to multiple sources of information. Yantis hasn't directly researched the effects of multitasking while driving, but the bottom line is this: When attention shifts toward one area, it drifts away from another.

"Most people think they're better at multitasking than they really are, and that's because most of the time, errors have no consequences," he said. "When you're driving, even half a second of distraction could, at the right circumstances, have disastrous consequences."

Just ask Patrick Sims. In 2005, the then 17-year-old Colorado resident struck and killed a bicyclist while tending to a text message. His sentence included nine days in jail and 300 hours of community service to be spent telling others his story.

"That day, that text message seemed important to me," Sims told The Denver Post. "Now I couldn't even tell you what it said."

That same year, a 26-year-old Tennessee man died after he reportedly lost control of his truck while trying to send a text message.

"When you're texting, you're having to do a manual task and a visual task," Yantis said. "That has to be worse than just talking on a cell phone."

Teenagers are at particular risk. A survey by the Liberty Mutual insurance company found that teens rated text messaging as the greatest driving distraction, followed by their emotional state and having several friends in the car at the same time.

"People are tuning their radios, people are trying to find their favorite CDs," said California Highway Patrol Officer Joe Zizi. "All of these are distractions that can lead to grave consequences."

The numbers speak for themselves. According to CHP data from 2005, 1,098 accidents, six of them fatal, were reported in which the driver at fault was using a hand-held cell phone at the time of the incident; 102 of those cases involved a hands-free cell phone.

"People will say, 'I'm sorry, I was on my cell phone, I didn't realize how fast I was going,'" Zizi said. "God forbid you crash and kill someone. Are you going to tell that to the family of the deceased?"

As dangerous as it is, though, text messaging while driving is not illegal. Beginning in July, 2008, Californians will no longer be able to talk on hand-held cell phones while driving. But the new law makes no mention of text messaging.

Still, Zizi said officers are keeping an eye out.

"If someone is staring at a keyboard and it's affecting their driving, we're going to stop them," he said.

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