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Traffic researcher finds work frightening

In Greek mythology, a woman named Cassandra was doomed to know the future and have no one believe her. Highway safety advocates probably feel a bit Cassandra-like when the release the findings of their studies of distracted driving and the risk posed by electronic devices.

According to one researcher who studies motorists, the implications of his job frighten him. He presumes when he sees a car that the driver may be on a cellphone and not paying any attention to his presence.

The threat of a car accident being caused by a driver distracted by their cellphone is not an idle one. At any given moment, while the sun is shining, 660,000 motorists are using their cellphone while driving.

Even in a city like New York City, the combined percentage of drivers using either a hand held and wireless electronic device was 13.3 percent. Texting is considered to be the most dangerous activity, taking your eyes off the road and hands off wheel, and resulting in an impairment that is equal to being intoxicated.

However, if you use a wireless device like a Bluetooth headset, don't believe that makes you safe from distraction. Research has shown that with a complex activity like driving an automobile on a busy street or highway, it is the mental element of carrying on a conversation that is distracting.

The researcher noted that for real improvement to occur with distracted driving there has to be a cultural shift that makes using cellphones in vehicles as stigmatized a behavior as smoking.

While researchers can lay out all of the reasons not to use a cellphone while driving, most people cannot resist their siren song. We hope the cultural shift occurs sooner rather than later, before too many are killed or injured. 

Source: Citylab.com, "Want Your Job to Scare You? Try Studying Distracted Driving," Sarah Goodyear, June 16, 2014

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