Putting Down My Phone: A Resolution

Woman driving and textingA few months ago I broke my arm when I took a fall. That in itself isn't notable (except for me!); falls happen to the best of us. What made this different — and a little bit humbling — was that at the time I was checking my phone to see when the next bus would arrive. I didn't see the two steps down on the sidewalk.

I was doing what millions of American women do every day — paying more attention to my phone than my surroundings. Smart phones aren't only for teens anymore. Like many women, I use my phone to keep up with the news, take pictures, email coworkers, and shoot off quick texts to my kids and friends, usually while on the go. Sometimes it just feels easier to look something up or dash off a text instead of waiting until I get where I'm going or I see the person again. But you know this. You probably do it, too.

What you may not realize is that using your phone takes quite a bit of attention. In fact, the seemingly simple act of texting takes so much attention that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed it "especially dangerous" to do while driving. Common driving distractions — including using a cell phone, texting, eating, turning on Bluetooth, and using GPS systems — all increase the risk of crashing by being visually, manually, and/or mentally distracting. Because texting takes your eyes off of the road (visual distraction), your hands off of the wheel (manual distraction), and your mind off of driving (mental distraction), it is one of the most dangerous distractions for drivers of all ages. And before you think, "I would never text in the car!" don't forget: Facebooking, tweeting, working a GPS map, and fumbling to turn on your Bluetooth are just as distracting.

Not convinced to put down your phone yet? Think about these statistics:

  • When you text while driving, your eyes are off of the road for an average of 5 seconds. If that doesn't sound like a lot, I challenge you to close your eyes and count to 5. Would you drive with your eyes closed for that long?
  • Your risk of crashing doubles when you text. It triples when you look for your phone to answer a call or text, look up a number, or dial a number.
  • Over 660,000 people are using their phones, GPS, or other electronic device while driving at this very moment.
  • In 2012, teens 15–19 made up 14% of phone-distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes. But it's not just a teen problem. That same year, 57% of drivers involved in fatal crashes who were distracted by their phones were 20–39.
  • In 2012, 28,000 people were injured and 415 killed in crashes where at least one of the drivers was using a cell phone in some way. Sometimes both drivers were using their phones.

Dr. Nancy LeeFor me, that last number is truly devastating. Over 400 people lost their lives in one year because someone didn't want to put down their phone. We all think we're good multitaskers. But using your phone while driving is not multitasking. It's taking attention away from the most important task at hand: controlling a vehicle.

Do you want to make a difference? Join me in committing to these simple changes:

  • Put your phone away when you get behind the wheel. It's that simple. Do anything you need to do before you turn on the engine. If you know you'll need to take a call, get your hands-free system ready ahead of time.
  • Be honest with yourself. Being stopped at a red light does not mean it's okay to post a picture of the cute bumper sticker on the car in front of you. You still need to focus your attention on the road, other vehicles, and any pedestrians or bicyclists in the area. Just because you're not moving does not mean you're no longer responsible.
  • Tell your family and friends that you won't be calling or texting from the road. Texting a simple "#X" before you leave lets your loved ones know that you will be out of touch until you reach your destination. If someone calls or texts you and you're tempted to pick up your phone, ask yourself, "Can it wait? Is it worth hurting someone? Is it worth hurting myself?"
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of using a phone while driving. Be frank with them: People die because of distracted driving. But you have to follow through, too. Being a good role model means saying it AND doing it.
  • Hold your family and friends accountable. Speak up! Refuse to text or talk with someone who's driving. If you're in a car with a driver who needs to use her phone, offer to do it for her. You wouldn't let a friend drink and drive — let's be accountable for each other when it comes to using our phones, too.

I was lucky. My wakeup call came when I was on foot and no one else was in danger. But I urge you not to wait until something serious happens. Please join me in making a simple, but powerful, New Year's resolution: Let's put down our phones, rest our hands on the steering wheel, and keep our eyes on the road. Together we can make driving safer.

For more information about texting and cell phone use while driving, visit Distracted Driving, What Is Distracted Driving?, Driver Electronic Device Use in 2012, and Distracted Driving 2012.