When you send or receive a text on your cell phone while driving, you take your eyes off the road for about five seconds. So if you're driving at 55 miles per hour, you're basically driving the length of an entire football field as if you were blindfolded. That's according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The good news is that California's Office of Traffic Safety reports that drivers are not picking up their cell phones quite as much. Last year, the OTS found just under four percent of drivers appeared to be using their phones while driving. That's down from about eight percent in 2016.
Rhonda Craft is director of the Office of Traffic Safety. She spoke with Take Two about how the study was conducted:
"It included people going out to 204 sites located within 17 counties within the state of California. And within each of those counties, we had 12 observation sites, observing whether or not drivers were holding the phone to the ear, whether or not they were manipulating a handheld electronic device while they were driving and talking on a handheld device."
That method has been in place since 2011, but last year was the first time the OTS observed such a significant dip. The reason may be two-fold:
- The tough cell phone law that closed a major loophole in prior cell phone laws took effect in January 2017. Cell phones must now be mounted, and your finger can only be used to swipe.
- Enforcement and education courtesy of the OTS.
These numbers almost sound too good to be true. So, we asked our listeners: Are YOU seeing a decrease in driver cell phone use?
Our Twitter poll found that 83 percent of you voted 'Nope. Not at all.'
Craft says the discrepancy points to a downside in the nature of how the study is conducted:
"They [observers in the study] see what they see. One of the issues related to an observational study is we don't know whether or not the person had used their phone prior to being observed or whether or not they used the phone afterward. So, those are variables that exist anytime you do an observational survey. But that's all we have."
Observation has been the study's technique for seven years, and it doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. Regardless of whether people are, in fact, using their cell phones any less while driving, one thing's certain: When you're behind the wheel, keep your eyes up and your cell phone down.