EDITORIAL: Using a smartphone while driving isn’t very smart

Every day in Macon-Bibb County and all over Middle Georgia and beyond, there is an insidious force at work. Most times it lacks the split-second timing it takes for it to raise its ugly head, yet it does appear daily. For the most part, nothing seriously happens -- a fender bender here, a quarter panel there -- but too many times, when distracted driving occurs, it can be fatal.

Though people anecdotally say that listening to music, changing stations on the radio, putting on makeup and eating while driving are dangerous, studies show there is something about cellphones, even hands-free devices, that’s different.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reports that “a 2006 study of real-world driver behavior, distraction and crash factors, about 80 percent of crashes were caused by some form of distraction occurring within three seconds of the incident. The study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found drivers who frequently engage in the most distracting activities are more likely to be involved in an inattention-related crash or near-crash.”

The Virginia Tech study followed 241 drivers of 100 vehicles for a year and found that “over the course of 2 million miles and 42,000-plus hours of activity, the test subject drivers were involved in 82 crashes, 761 near-crashes and 8,296 critical incidents.”

Tied to talking on cellphones while driving is texting, According to an online survey released in May 2008, and published on the GOHS website, “Georgia has the third-highest rate in the nation for drivers who text on cellphones while behind the wheel. Thirty-seven percent of the drivers in the Georgia survey admitted they actually text while driving. Anecdotal evidence points to younger, less experienced drivers engaged in this hazardous distracted driving habit.” Texting while driving is against the law. What we need is a change in behavior.

Drivers, particularly younger, less experienced ones, believe they can handle talking or texting while driving. And adults, with their years of experience, also feel they can handle multitasking. That may be true at work, but in the ever-shifting highway scene, where a single second can decide life or death or serious injury, it’s best to follow a simple rule: No phone call or text message is worth losing your life over.

This Labor Day weekend, be careful out there and leave the texting and talking for a time when you’re not behind the wheel of a missile.