“Safe Phone Zones” and the Texting and Driving Epidemic

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Transportation unveiled over sixty “safe phone zones” at rest areas, welcome centers, and turnpike service plazas throughout the state. The goal of this program is to remind drivers that some places are appropriate for smartphone use, and others—like their cars—aren’t. Identifying specific places as “safe phone zones” could help reshape the orientation of drivers as they drive and use their cells.

How much of a problem is texting while driving?

We see auto accident cases rooted in texting all the time, but rarely do these cases make it to court. Since the distracted driver is at fault, they usually settle, and the cause of their distraction often remains undisclosed.

But since 2012, distracted driving accidents are up 25%, and these accidents are largely being attributed to texting and driving. Also, research shows that we would have 25% fewer car accidents each year if not for drivers who are texting. Those are significant numbers that merit a serious look at the issue.

How did this problem emerge?

Texting and driving is relatively new. Ten years ago, the iPhone didn’t yet exist. Blackberries were used obsessively by business executives, while the rest of us fumbled to text with our flip phones. Because flip phones didn’t have a full keypad, texting while driving was almost impossible.

When iPhones came on the scene in 2007, they sparked a cultural revolution: everyone could now access a portable computer that fit in their pockets. Searching for information online became a part of daily existence, and texting became the primary means of communication for young people. Society placed few boundaries on where or when smartphones could be used. It was and is socially acceptable to text or search while shopping, at sporting events, between classes at school, in the office, and in the car.

Teens are the most vulnerable to texting and driving, as 77% of these young adults surveyed don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Since 82% of 16 and 17-year-olds own a cell phone, we need to do a better job of shaping attitudes and perceptions about this dangerous activity.

How can we end the texting while driving epidemic?

In 1980, a mom named Beckie Brown formed the first chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) after losing her 18-year-old-son to a drunk driving accident. The group’s goal of creating “major social change in the attitude and behavior of Americans toward drunk driving” influenced our culture by turning drinking while driving into a shameful activity while successfully pressuring legislators to heavily penalize drunk drivers.

35 years later, this is a perfect model for change as we’re fighting a new battle. We’re starting to see the beginnings of legislative change in Florida, with the statute that makes texting while driving a secondary non-criminal traffic offense, but we have a long way to go.

How has texting while driving impacted your life? What do you think should be done to put an end to it?

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