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Operating smartphone behind wheel poses serious safety risks

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By MICHAEL BEATON

It’s something military service members and their Families hear regularly, “Communication is Key” but in one notable situation it’s downright deadly: while driving.

As anyone can tell you, smartphones have made it all too easy for us to stay in touch from anywhere and at all times—including behind the wheel while driving—and that can pose serious safety risks if someone decides to check his or her text messages, emails, phone calls or any other mobile applications while driving.

“We’ve all encountered it, the vehicle swerving haphazardly as it makes its way down a motorway or zipping in and out on the autobahn unpredictably. The explanation, more often than not these days, turns out to be the driver using a phone,” said U.S. Army Medical Department Activity Bavaria safety specialist, Kai Schrag. “Those texting and talking on the phone are a danger not only to themselves but to others. The solution is simple: to take the call or message, just pull over.”

Schrag knows what he is talking about. According to the National Safety Council study released in 2016, texting while driving makes the driver six times more likely to cause an accident than if they were driving drunk. A similar study by Car and Driver magazine, included a series of experiments which took place at a deserted air strip, experiments showed that texting while driving had an even worse impact on safety than driving while intoxicated. Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that’s approximately enough time to travel the length of a football field.

Even when speaking using a hands-free device, these same studies showed drivers can miss seeing up to half of what’s around them because they are engaged in a cell phone conversation or texting. Those who think that hands-free texting is low on the list of potential driving hazards might therefore wish to think again.

Operating a vehicle and using a cell phone require a concentration and thought; when combined, the brain
is unable to do either well. The example most given, that it’s nearly impossible to read a book and have a phone conversation, is one anyone can try at home.

“Actually holding a phone to your ear while driving is illegal,” Schrag said. “But not having both hands on the wheel is only part of the problem. Another serious part is the dissipation of attention involved.”

In the U.S. texting while driving is generally outlawed for drivers in all states and the District of Columbia. Nonetheless, annual government statistics published yearly by the Departments of Transportation consistently show that a significant percentage of drivers continue to underestimate the dangers due to cellphone distraction.

“The statistics are against a driver calling or texting, and they’re growing every year,” said Schrag. “Awareness and not endangering yourself and or others so needlessly is the take away. Until everybody gets it, I really can’t repeat this enough. Please, just pull over when taking or making a call or a text.”

At any given time throughout the day in the U.S. approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while behind the wheel of an automobile.

In 2016 more than 310,000 injuries occurred in the U.S. from accidents caused by texting while driving.

Eleven teens die every day in the U.S. as a result of texting while driving. According to an AAA poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent admitted to doing it anyway. Twenty-one percent of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were found to be distracted by their cell phones.

In 2015 AT&T conducted a poll of more than 2000 people aged 16 to 65. The poll also found that there were some people who kept their attention divided regularly while they drove. Thirty
percent of the people who used Twitter while in motion said they did it “all the time.” More than one-fourth of the people who shoot photos while driving said they believed they could do it “safely.” n