Purcell: Beware of distracted drivers this summer (column)
June 4, 2017
Editor's Note: A version of this column was distributed in 2016.
As you hit the roadways this summer, here's a safety tip to keep in mind: Beware of distracted drivers.
According to, Distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, this involves "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving."
Distractions include everything from eating and drinking to using a navigation system to adjusting a stereo — or worse.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., I saw people do some nutty things on the Beltway most mornings: applying makeup, working on computers, participating in video-phone conferences in which, I imagine, political types were concocting new strategies to fleece the American taxpayer.
The most dangerous distraction, however, continues to be texting because it "requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver."
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And, boy, is texting a problem.
According to the CTIA Wireless Association, Americans had sent nearly 170 billion text messages as of 2014 — and many did so while behind the wheel.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the percentage of drivers text messaging or visibly manipulating handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014.
NHTSA also reported that since 2007, young drivers, ages 16 to 24, have been observed manipulating electronic devices at much higher rates than older drivers — in part because older divers don't know how to work their newfangled gadgets.
In any event, National Occupant Protection Use Surveys found out that at any given moment during the day, approximately 660,000 American drivers are using cellphones to talk, text or use apps while they are driving — a number that has held steady since 2010.
And cellphone use is causing 1.6 million crashes each year, according to the National Safety Council. The council also reported nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving and that 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
Which means we drivers need to knock of it off.
Look, how many studies do we have to do to finally realize how dangerous cellphone use is in our cars?
Carnegie Mellon University found that talking on a cellphone reduces activity in the brain's parietal lobe by 37 percent — and probably reduces the parietal lobe in men by 74 percent, since we men generally use only half a brain anyway.
Here's another troubling finding: According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving diverts your eyes from the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
The fact is people are not good at multitasking while driving — certainly not good at using their cellphones while driving.
You'd think it would be simple common sense — that people would know better than to try to text and drive or take cellphone calls while they're roaring down a highway at a high rate of speed — but that isn't the case.
You'd think there would be no need for new laws and penalties to punish and prevent distracted driving, but, unfortunately, there is.
Every day, newspaper headlines feature tragedies that involve texting drivers — and the subsequent manslaughter lawsuits that many of these texting drivers are facing.
And that is why many people — people like me who are otherwise wary of our government — agree that state and local governments need to crack down hard on this matter until a thick-headed public finally grasps the seriousness of cellphone use while driving.
So be careful when you hit the roadways this summer — careful to avoid a still growing number of distracted American drivers.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom@TomPurcell.com.
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