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In this day and age it seems like everyone is always “plugged-in.” Whether it’s an iPhone, a Blackberry, a laptop, or just a cell phone people always seem to be exchanging communication with one another. But what happens when we drive? Do we stop talking or texting or emailing so we can focus on the road? If you’ve been out driving in the last few year then you know the answer is no. We’ve all almost been run off the road by the jerk on the cell phone. So how dangerous is cell phone use while driving, really? And what’s being done to control it?

In 2005, motor vehicle traffic fatalities accounted for 37 percent of unintentional fatal injuries – more than 43,600 deaths. Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells us that nearly 80 percent of crashes involve some form of driver distraction. A new Virginia Tech study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. Research from the University of Utah, which used a driving simulator to study the ability of motorists to multitask, found an eightfold greater risk of crashing when texting. By comparison, Utah researchers showed that drivers using a cell phone to talk face a four times greater risk of crashing, about equal to someone with a 0.08 blood alcohol level, generally the legal limit for intoxication. While people may not think texting while driving is distracting, it takes much more of the driver’s attention away from the road. Sending text messages is a much higher risk activity that occurs for a longer duration and with more people than most other actions engaged in while driving.

Many states have decided to do something about the problem. Currently, eighteen states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers. Nine states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers, and one state restricts school bus drivers from texting while driving. Recently, Senators have sought to ban a measure on texting while driving in all states. Under the measure, states would have two years to outlaw the sending of text and e-mail messages by drivers or lose 25 percent of their highway money each year until the money was depleted. States that do not ban texting by drivers could forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in federal highway funds under this legislation.

Legislation or not, texting while driving is not safe. Many accidents can be avoided just by paying less attention to our phone and more attention to the road ahead. Remember, that text message will be there when the drive is over, but if you answer that text, you might not be.

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