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Social Media and Driving: A Dangerous, Deadly Combination

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NHTSA distracted

The definition of distracted driving has expanded. The rise in popularity of Pokemon Go, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media apps on smartphones increases the chances of being distracted while behind the wheel of a vehicle. Looking down for “just a sec” could be enough to cause a crash—deadly at times.

The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than eight (8) people are killed every day, and more than 1000 are injured in crashes or accidents caused by distracted driving.

In a recent survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), high school teens were asked to define the most dangerous or distracting behaviors for teen drivers. Of the 2,500 surveyed, only 6% thought it was dangerous to be actively looking at, or posting to, social media while driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol ranked at the top for 29%, while 25% said writing or texting was the most dangerous. Nearly 70% of the teens admit to using apps when driving.

In a similar study by the National Safety Council, 74% of teens said they would use Facebook while driving, 37% would use Twitter, with YouTube at 35% and Instagram at 33%.  (www.cnn.com, 08-02-16)

“Based on observations and crash data, the National Safety Council estimates that about one-fourth of all crashes can be attributed to distracted driving connected with use of a phone. What we are seeing in the observational data is that even though people are not being observed talking as much as they were in the past on handheld phones, they are seeing an increase in texting,” Hersman said.  (www.cnn.com, 08-02-16)

Despina Stavrinos, director of the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Translational Research for Injury Prevention (TRIP) Laboratory is studying distracted driving. She spoke to CNN about the challenges presented when people try to drive and use their cell phone simultaneously. “Many of the times, when you are engaging in social media while driving, you are taking your eyes off the road for long glances … glances over two seconds that significantly increase your crash risk.” (www.cnn.com, 08-02-16)

One of the things Stavrinos found is that personality type can determine which teens and older drivers are most likely to be distracted drivers. For teens, it is not, as you might think, the socially outgoing ones. It’s the conscientious teens that are more likely to text while driving. These teens feel a stronger need to please and to do certain things—like answer texts. In other words, they feel a compulsion to reply to messages. When the researchers looked at older drivers, it was the more extroverted drivers who used social media while driving. They want stay connected with friends and family regardless of where and when.

Why is it so hard to understand the dangers of using smart phones when driving? The studies report that 70% of teens use social media as they are driving a vehicle; 74% admitted to using Facebook while driving.  These are stunning statistics.

We have the evidence of the danger. The CDC phrases it this way:  looking at your phone to read one text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes off the road.   Think of it this way:  would you drive the equivalent of the length of a football field with your eyes closed if you were asked (or dared)?   Rational people would not.

A study from the University of Utah concluded that one text message increases your chances of crashing by at least six times.  The average text takes about five (5) seconds, so it is easy to see why one’s chances of crashing increase considerably.  If you do this and have not yet crashed, you are playing Russian Roulette; keep it up, and your number will be called.

Why not make a pledge with yourself to put your phone away while driving?  In your back pocket, purse, trunk, or in the glove compartment – or someplace safely out-of-sight. Anywhere but in your hands (or within arms reach) where you will be tempted. Life is precious—yours and that of others on the road. The picture, the text, the “Like”—they can wait.

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