As of December 2012, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the U.S. every month. Studies show that sending or receiving a text takes a driver an average of 4.6 seconds. That is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour. A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive.

Another study at Virginia Tech found that text messaging increased the risk of a safety-critical event, such as a crash or near-crash, by 23 times over a driver who wasn’t distracted. So what exactly is “Distracted Driving?” Distracted driving is simply driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. There are generally three types of distraction:

  1. Visual – taking your eyes of the road
  2. Manual – taking your hands off the wheel; and
  3. Cognitive – taking your mind off of driving

When I started driving, the biggest distraction was which 8 track I was going to listen to. Fast forward 30 years and now almost everyone has a cell phone to use while driving. Throw in texting, surfing the internet, email, a gps, dashboards that talk to you, tv’s in the backseat for our kids, and the list goes on. Distracted driving is certainly at an all-time high.

Recently I went on a field trip with my son and 40 of his 5th grade classmates. As we drove down the highway at 60 mph, I watched a young driver in a car next to us. She had one hand on the wheel and one hand on her cell phone. For approximately 5 minutes, I watched her type on her cell phone while her car proceeded to swerve in and out of her lane. At one point, I was convinced the young driver’s car was going to collide with this bus full of eleven year old kids.

The law in Virginia changed July 1 in an effort to tackle the problems associated with distracted driving. Previously, texting or e-mailing while driving was a secondary offense, meaning that a police officer could not stop a car for that reason alone. Now, Va. Code § 46.2-1078.1 makes it unlawful for “any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communication device to: 1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or 2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.” A first offense will cost a driver $125; the price for subsequent fines is $250.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nine people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured every day in automobile crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. We all need to make sure we do our part to tackle this increasing problem!

Sources: U.S. Department of Transportation, Center for Truck and Bus Safety Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Center for Disease Control, University of Michigan Research Institute