Written by Stephen Levine Friday, 26 July 2013 00:00
Inside a car zooming past the train station on Mineola Blvd., a phone buzzes with a text message. Who is it from? What is it about? The anticipation and uncertainty are too much for some drivers, who reach for their cell phones to check despite the dangers.
Anton Community Newspapers recently set out to study texting drivers on L.I. and observed approximately 32 of 300 motorists--10.6 percent--driving down Mineola Blvd. guilty of checking their phones behind the wheel.
It’s nothing to “lol” about. A recent AAA study reveals that these 11 percent have their attention and motor skills undermined, which can be fatal.
“Texting while driving is unique in that it uses both of your hands and your eyes, all of which are needed for driving,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York. “Some people think they can get away with doing it briefly but that’s not the case.”
In the AAA study, cognitive distraction expert Dr. David Strayer and a team from the University of Utah measured brain waves and eye movements to assess shifts in a driver’s mental workload when he or she attempts to multitask. Cameras inside the cars tracked eye and head movement, while another mechanism recorded the motorist’s reaction time and an electroencephalographic skull cap charted brain activity.
According to Sinclair, the study revealed two major problems created by texting while driving. First, tunnel vision hinders texting drivers from seeing anything not in front of them. The rear view and sides are neglected. Furthermore, texting drivers also fall prey to ‘inattentive blindness,’ failing to notice obstacles even right in front of them--including stop signs and red lights.
“The study really helped qualify that there were distractions,” says Sinclar. “It also shows what types of distractions happen and what can happen from them.” These distractions are proving drastic, especially for the younger generation which has embraced texting so fully.
Cohen’s Children Medical Center in New Hyde Park did analyzed a survey the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted of 15,000 geographically and demographically diverse high school students, which for the first time included questions about texting. The Cohen Center team examined the rate of texting while driving among teens, how this behavior correlates with other risky behaviors, and to what extent laws make a difference.
Their conclusions? Nearly half of all teenagers text and drive. “Unfortunately kids are texting like crazy because its second nature to teenagers these days,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen. “They fail to appreciate the risks associated with texting while driving.”
Texting has surpassed alcohol as the cause of auto accident deaths--3,000 per year compared to 2,700--and leads to 330,000 injuries per year, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Alcohol-related accidents have dropped 52 percent since 1982 while non-alcoholic related car crashes have risen 78 percent.
According to Adesman, the rising wave in accidents by teenagers is a “perfect storm.” Teenagers are the newest and most inexperienced drivers on the road, and adding a visual distraction like texting only facilitates accidents.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has been trying to make stricter laws since 2011, when he made distracted driving a primary traffic offense, allowing police to pull someone over purely for texting behind the wheel. More recently, Cuomo deployed troopers in Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) vehicles to patrol highways statewide and increased the penalty for texting from three to five points on a license.
Unfortunately Adesman found that there is virtually no difference between states that have laws that prohibit texting and those that don’t, which seems to prove that the laws aren’t working.
“You can legislate up the wazoo, but people still have to comply,” says Sinclair. “Unfortunately, people still don’t get it.”
While legislation doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, many advocates, including Adesman, look to the cell phone manufacturers to help make the difference.
“There should be a technological solution to a technological problem,” he says.
Adesman adds that there is an app which immobilizes the texting feature at speeds above 10 miles per hour.
For many, the urge to respond to a buzzing phone is automatic, but it is important--a matter of life and death--to stay focused when controlling several thousand pounds of steel traveling upwards of 30 miles per hour.
“Nothing is so important to take away from driving,” says Sinclair. “People who think they can text and drive...it’s insanity.”