Texting and Driving: Why Not? Research Explains

We know we shouldn’t drive distracted. More specifically, we know we shouldn’t text and drive. We’ve known it as long as we’ve owned cell phones, but many of us still text and drive. At one point or another, everyone has been guilty of texting or otherwise being distracted while driving.  Even after the latest Distracted Driver Amendments (S.B. 253) were passed and put into effect, drivers can still be seen on the roads talking and texting.

Will laws and penalties ever be enough to stop us from driving distracted? One research study out of Washington State University from earlier this year suggests that laws aren’t enough. According to research, we stop doing something we know we are not supposed to do when we are reminded of why we fear the consequences. This study shows us that texting and driving could very likely lead to death or serious injury, and being reminded of those consequences will help motivate us to stop texting behind the wheel.

There Are Laws Against Texting and Driving . . . So Why Do We Still Text and Drive?

One New York Times article back in 2009 reported that “Utah passed the nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel,” requiring from three months up to 15 years jail time and from $750 to $10,000 in fines for offenders. In March of this year, Utah had to crack down even further with more specific amendments and penalties because the problem of texting while driving still persists. The New York Times article cites research that suggests many people are aware that texting and driving is dangerous, but assume that they are not are the problem. In other words, oftentimes we do not believe that we are doing anything wrong or causing any real harm, even while we are the ones texting and driving. The scholars at Washington State University write that “drivers tend to believe it is dangerous to text and drive, [but] many say they can still do it safely.” Sometimes, apparently, we do not believe the law applies to us. Laws help us become aware that texting while driving is a problem, but do not seem to provide enough motivation for us to stop and thereby help prevent future accidents.

A More Effective Prevention

The Washington State University study shows us that drivers are more likely to actually stop texting when they learn about the consequences of doing so, because they are reminded of the fears they already have about dangerous consequences becoming a reality.The study suggests: “Drivers can be discouraged from the practice with public service announcements that evoke their fear of death in graphic terms.” Reading, watching, listening to, or otherwise internalizing the real stories of those who have died in accidents related to texting and driving are more likely to be impacted by them—enough to stop texting in the car.

It Gets Personal: Leslee and Dave Henson

The findings in this study have already been seen to apply to us here in Utah. The personal stories of men and women who have been killed and injured in accidents due to drivers who were texting inspired both the original texting law and the subsequent amendments. The Utah law that prohibits texting and driving originally was inspired by the death of two scientists who were hit head-on by a distracted driver and killed instantly in September 2006. Most recently, S.B. 253 was sponsored by Senator Steve Urquhart, who was inspired to act after hearing the story of one of his constituents, Leslee Henson. One of Leslee’s children records their parents’ story on a blog dedicated to raising awareness of the consequences of texting while driving:

On March 4th, 2013, my parents, Dave & Leslee Henson went on a morning walk on Dixie Drive in St George, UT, and were hit by a car while walking on the sidewalk. The driver at fault was texting and speeding. My dad saved my mom’s life by taking the full impact and shielding her from the car. My mom survived with a broken neck, broken back, separated shoulder, and several other injuries including over 5,000 stitches and staples in and on her head. She is a miracle and we are so blessed that she survived the accident. We know she is meant to be here on earth. We hope that together we can save lives by educating teens AND adults on the dangers of distracted driving, most specifically, texting and talking on cell phones while driving.

Since the death of their husband and father, Leslee and her children have raced, walked, raised money, and spoken on circuits and in schools in order to increase awareness of the consequences of texting while driving. The Henson children have also shared videos of their dad and began Stopthetextsstopthewrecks.blogspot.com to spread the word.

The Facts

The following eye-opening facts have been pulled from the NHTSA, distraction.gov, stopthetextsstopthewrecks.org, and the aforementioned Washington State and the New York Times articles.

  • According to the NHTSA, “approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.”
  • The researchers in the aforementioned Washington State Study cite a National Safety Council estimate that more than 1 in 4 car accidents are caused by distracted drivers.
  • Nearly 200,000 accidents are specifically attributed to texting while driving every year.
  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
  • Studies show that talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving with a .08 blood alcohol level—generally the standard for drunken driving—and that the risk of driving while texting is twice as dangerous.
  • A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
  • 49% of drivers with cell phones under the age of 35 send or read text messages while driving.

Stop Texting and Driving!: A few tips

  • Hand the phone to another person in the car to answer or respond
  • Put your phone on silent or turn it off altogether. It can wait! (Remember when cell phones didn’t exist?!)
  • Place your phone in a location in your car where you cannot easily access it and won’t be reminded of it. Out of sight and out of mind!

Whether the laws and the facts are as influential or powerful in raising awareness as personal stories or not . . . whether you personally know someone who has been affected by texting or driving or not . . . the important takeaway for us all is to stop texting while driving. And for those who do have personal stories, please share!


Photo “texting while driving” copy right to Jason Weaver

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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