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How Cell Phone Use Can Affect Driving Safety

In today's world, nearly all of us become more dependent on modern technology with each passing year. This truth is no more evident anywhere than it is in our dependence upon cell phones. Whereas even as recently as eight to ten years ago, cell phone use was generally restricted to more affluent citizens and upper-level business employees, cell phone use today is common even among children who have not yet entered the work force at all. Cell phones are one of those peculiar instruments that we never seem to have a need for until we get one. Most people wonder how they ever did without once they do get a cell phone, because they allow us to instantly reach and be reached by others, no matter where we go.

Cell phone use across the country increases every year, as technology improves and increased competition drives down prices, making these devices affordable for almost everyone. In fact, many Americans have chosen to forego even having a land line at all, choosing instead to make their cell phones their primary means of telephone communication. The notion of instant access and constant availability has pervaded our culture as these devices have become so ubiquitous that anyone can be reached at practically any time or place...even in the car. Cell phone use while driving has increased exponentially over the past decade, even more so in more recent years as text messaging has become a more and more popular option on cell phones.

Increased Cell Phone Use a Reality of Modern Life

Our increased use of cell phones as a way of constantly staying in touch and constantly being available is a unique characteristic of 21st century America, a characteristic which is only becoming more ingrained in our culture as time goes by. Cell phone use is a reality of modern life. With increased availability has come the notion that we are always ready to take care of business problems or deal with customers or take down shopping lists for our spouses on our way home from work. Americans with cell phones are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For this reason, many feel the pressure of having their cell phones turned on all the time, and answering every incoming call. It is almost a failure of etiquette these days to let a call go to voice mail. A returned call invariably starts with some explanation of why the call was missed, complete with an apology, as if in missing the call some sin was committed.

Cell phone use while driving is something most everyone takes part in, whether by choice or out of a felt obligation to be reachable at all times. Technology has attempted to keep up with this phenomenon by offering hands-free driving kits for cell phones, but thus far the offerings have been met with mixed reviews owing to design bugs and general inconvenience associated with their setup and general upkeep.

As cell phone use has increased, experts in many fields from law enforcement to car insurance providers to legislators have responded in their own ways. Legislators in many states have passed various measures banning or limiting cell phone use while driving. Law enforcement officials have attempted to enforce these laws, with mixed degrees of success. The increase in cell phone use has led to increased car accidents related to distracted driving, making the need for legislation and enforcement that much more pressing.

Cell phone use while operating a car is dangerous for two basic reasons. First, it takes the driver's eyes off the road for a certain period of time, during which the car continues to travel. Possible road hazards and other forms of trouble ahead can be missed by a driver looking down at his cell rather than up at the road in front of him. Second, the act of using a cell phone while driving tends to have the effect of dividing the driver's attention. Even while using a hands-free kit, the driver is devoting some attention to the conversation, diverting attention away from the task of operating the car and reducing his ability to respond to emergency situations requiring snap decisions behind the wheel.

Texting a Particularly Dangerous Driving Behavior

A particularly distracting driving behavior is the use of cell phones for sending and receiving text messages. A July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study concluded that a driver's risk of being involved in an auto collision becomes 23 times greater if the driver is engaged in texting while driving [1]. Texting is even more dangerous than talking on the cell phone because of the constant need to look at the mobile device to read and enter typed messages, diverting both one hand away from the operation of the car and the driver's eyes from the road ahead.

According to the cell phone trade industry group CTIA, the number of text messages sent on mobile devices each month grew to an astounding 110.4 billion by December of 2008, a tenfold increase from three years prior [1]. President Obama has signed an executive order banning the practice of texting while driving for all government employees, and many states and private companies are following suit with legislation and corporate decrees of their own. Still, the practice continues to become more common and likely will keep increasing in frequency until more effective enforcement practices are developed.

Limit Cell Phone Use to Promote Safety Behind the Wheel

Cell phone use and the sending and receiving of text messages have become an integral part of our daily professional and personal lives. There is no question that this form of communication is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Many Americans who swore they would never get a cell phone have begrudgingly joined the millions of others who count on these devices every day of their lives, simply because they are so convenient and so useful in many ways. Having a cell phone in your car is a good idea, because if you get into an accident or encounter a mechanical problem, you can get into contact with people who can help you resolve the situation at a moment's notice. Without a doubt, cell phones have a value and a legitimate place as a useful piece of equipment in our cars.

That being said, the usefulness of cell phones in helping us to more quickly respond in the event of an emergency is often overshadowed by their clear statistical role in contributing to such emergencies in the first place. Though they are indispensable assets that can really come in handy when we are in a pinch, they can also become a source of distraction that can hamper our ability to safely operate our vehicles. The trouble isn't with the phones themselves; it is with us and with our excessive use of them while we are behind the wheel. We need to individually and collectively reconsider the proper place of cell phones in automobiles, and think logically about the ways we can adjust our cell phone habits to reduce the risk of trouble on the road.

[1] Retrieved 2009-12-13.



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