In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers (which includes texting and using a phone, as well as eating, adjusting the radio, and other activities), according to the US Department of Transportation. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Fatality Facts say that 11 teen deaths occur EVERY DAY due to texting while driving.

In the latest of its “It Can Wait” campaign, AT&T offers a mini-movie that shows how checking social media while driving can destroy lives. It’s an all too familiar scenario. A North Carolina woman died behind the wheel just moments after posting a Facebook message and hitting a truck head-on. Police say the woman posted to Facebook at 8:33 a.m., and one minute later, a call came in about the car crash. Her final post “The happy song makes me HAPPY!” referring to the Pharrell Williams song, ended her life, all so she could let her friends know that she was happy. A quick search on the Internet finds story after story with similar details.

Studies show that five seconds is the minimal amount of time that your attention is taken away from the road when texting and driving. It’s like driving with your eyes closed for five seconds at a time. If you are traveling at 55mph, this equals driving the length of a football field without looking at the road. Studies also show that texting makes a crash up to twenty-three times more likely. Other device activities also increase crash risk: Dialing 2.8 times more risk, Talking or listening 1.3 times more risk, and reaching for the device 1.4 times more risk.

Seventy-seven percent of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving, and fifty-five percent claim it’s easy to text while driving. But it’s not just kids who are the problem. Forty-eight percent of young drivers have seen their parents drive while talking on a cell phone, and fifteen percent have seen their parents text while driving.

Texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that texting while driving is the same as having four beers.

A majority of Americans agree that texting while driving is dangerous, but in a culture where ninety-one percent of Americans own a cell phone, keeping phones out of reach in vehicles is easier said than done. A study by psychologist David Greenfield looked at why people have such a hard time controlling the urge to check their phones while driving. Greenfield says that our smartphones have actually changed the way our brains work. Greenfield says that when people receive information on their cell phones that is pleasurable, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes a person feel happy. We don’t know if the text will make us feel that way or not, so we feel the need to check. Remember Pavlov’s dogs and that silly bell? In the Mandt System training program we explore the significance of the focus of our attention, be it the road ahead or a person in crisis, being worthy of our undivided attention so as to minimize risk of wreckage be it motorized or relational.

Will the AT&T ad make an impact? Probably not much of one. Perfectly nice, well-intentioned people are picking up their phones in the car with the full knowledge that they are endangering themselves and everyone around them. Our phones can be our most dangerous passengers. We each need to make a conscious decision to silence them before we turn the key. If we can’t hear them while we are driving, we will be less likely to allow them to distract us while driving.

Randel C. Goad – Mandt System Faculty Supervisor