Cell phones while driving aren’t at heart of issue


It’s always been hard to keep a toddler’s attention for more than a few minutes at a time. With the increasing number of newer technologies, however, attention spans seem to be dwindling in older individuals too.

We’ve all heard it before hundreds of times: Cell phones distract drivers. Studies have confirmed this assertion. A study conducted by Strayer, Drews and Crouch at the University of Utah in 2006 concluded that impairments caused by cell phones are similar to those of the highest blood alcohol level allowed in drivers.

Another study conducted by the American Automobile Assocation last summer reveals that a staggering 46 percent of teens said they texted frequently while behind the wheel.

Statistics like these have led to many city ordinances forbidding the use of a hand-held device while driving. This may not produce the results these cities are hoping for, however, as the University of Illinois researchers found that hands-free devices don’t necessarily make drivers any safer, particularly because they still alter the reaction speeds of experienced drivers.

Although some of these statistics may be alarming, multitasking has been recognized as a growing skill for over a decade. A multitasking study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2006 concluded that students studying for school are engaged in at least one other activity 65 percent of the time. This was over double the foundation’s figures in 2005 that claimed 26 percent of teens were self-proclaimed multitaskers.

The negative attention cell phone usage has been getting in the media and through research is only part of a larger history of driving distractions. Before there were cell phones, Starbucks was the source of all driving catastrophes. And before that, it was the McDonald’s drive-thru. No doubt car radios prompted a fiery response in 1929 as well.

I can’t deny that I have been frustrated by negligent drivers chatting away on their cell phones when they should be noticing me in their blind spots. But I’ve also passed drivers talking on their phones who don’t seem affected at all, drivers that are still observant of their surroundings, watchful to allow people to change lanes in front of them and appropriately obeying the posted speed limits. By the same token, I’ve been most frustrated by drivers who aren’t doing anything at all other than driving carelessly in both lanes of traffic, through red lights and ridiculously over or under the speed limit.

These observations lead me to question whether it’s the amount of distractions in the car or the natural abilities of the driver than truly affect how quickly and effectively drivers react while multi-tasking.

Generation M-ers complete their homework, watch the latest episode of their favorite TV shows, IM with a friend about a breakup with a boyfriend and eat dinner simultaneously on a constant basis. Like any skill, some will fare more successfully in producing quality homework, remembering the details of the episode, offering thoughtful advice to their friends and getting dinner in their mouths without major spills.

Although I appreciate the sentiment behind restricting cell phone usage while behind the wheel, I think the world may be thinking too ambitiously to conclude that cell phones are the catalysts behind most of the bad driving on our roads. Focusing our attention away from making excuses and on to training people to be better drivers is the only way to truly make the roads safer for everyone.