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Impact and Relative Influence Cellular Technology Is Having on Driving Performance

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Drive Baby! Drive!

Despite how complex the driving process can be, it is not uncommon to see drivers engaged in various other activities while driving, including talking to passengers, listening to the radio and even reading. Now, some drivers have turned these 2,800-pound machines -- hurtling down the highway at 65 mph -- into home offices. People's preoccupation with electronic devices while driving has also become increasingly common. Which include talking on cellular devices, adjusting GPS's, sending emails, and even texting while driving. For this reason, any activity that distracts the driver or competes for their attention while driving has the potential to degrade driving performance and have serious consequences for road safety. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)Driver distraction is one form of driver inattention and is claimed to be a contributing factor in over half of unintentional accidents. Subsequently, as more wireless communication, entertainment and driver assistance systems flood the vehicle market, the rate of distraction-related crashes has escalated and become an out of control problem. It is an epidemic that endangers the lives of millions of individuals that are on a daily bases. Although cellular technology has changed our lives for the better, it threatens the lives of millions of individuals as they commute every day, and therefore does not belong in the driving process. Thus, it is important to examine the impact and relative influence cellular technology is having on driving performance.

Let's begin by establishing that using a cell phone while driving has become a serious and growing problem and although it is apparent that "cellphones do play an integral role in our society, the convenience they offer must be judged against the hazards they pose" (Bunkley). It is important to note that overall cell phone usage has increased greatly in the last 12-14 years. According to the cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, as of august 2004, "168 million people used cellphones, compared to only 4.3 million in 1990" and the numbers continue to increase as the years go by with a percent increase ranging over 500 percent (Edgette). Moreover, a survey of dangerous driver behavior was released in January 2007 by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. The survey of 1,200 drivers found that 73 percent talk on cellphones while driving.

Sure enough, this jump in cell phone use has been accompanied by a jump in traffic accidents linked to cell phone use, which can indecently increase the risk of being involved in a collision by up to four times. In a 2006 joint report issued with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the institute found 78 percent of crashes involved a driver distracted within three seconds before an accident because according to a study released last month by the Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, "a driver who looks away from the road for two or more seconds is almost twice as likely as an attentive driver to be involved in a crash or near crash" (Holeywell).

In addition, while talking on or dialing a cellphone accounted for 6% of crashes or near-misses (NHTSA). Furthermore, inattentive driving accounted for 6.4 percent of crash fatalities in 2003--the latest data available--according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Also according to a 2004 article in USA today by Susan Dunn, in Texas alone, during 2001 cell phone usage was considered a contributing factor in 1,032 accidents and resulted in eight fatalities.

Thus, not only does cell phone usage increase the chances of an accident, but it also increases the likelihood of fatalities. An independent study done by the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis found that driving while using a cell phone increases the risk to 6.4 fatalities per million drivers annually. The study also found that the chance that a driver using a cell phone would kill a pedestrian or other motorist was 1.5 per 1 million people. Estimating from these figures, with 210 million licensed drivers in the U.S., this comes to roughly 1,660 fatalities per year stemming from cell phone-related accidents (Harvard).

Now let's examine just how using a cellphone while driving creates accidents. Whether individuals choose to accept it or not - and "no matter how experienced we are as drivers, we are distracted from paying attention to the road when we use a cell phone while driving" (Bunkley). Research suggests that both the physical and cognitive distractions caused by using mobile phones while driving can significantly impair a driver's visual search patterns, reaction times, decision-making processes and their ability to maintain speed, throttle control and lateral position on the road (K. Young).

Think about it: When you access your phone or dial a number, you lose eye contact with the road. Even you use a hands-free phone, your mental attention is split between your conversation and ever changing road conditions. Being absorbed in a conversation affects your ability to concentrate on driving, and this can jeopardize your safety and



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