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Cars and Phones, Part 1

If you’re in the car right now, there’s a good chance you can see someone on a cell phone. Most of us do it — and wish others would stop. in the first of a three part series on distracted driving, Melissa Galvez looks at our love affair with cell phones and cars.


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“So, this is the diary I kept during my time as a guinea pig…”

For this story, I asked some people to give up using their phone while driving for three days. Music Librarian Dacia Clay thought that would be easy for her:

“Day 2. Even though I consider myself to be a light phone user while driving, I have to suppress a need to check my phone every few minutes. I see my right hand inching toward my purse in the passenger seat, snatch it back, repeat. Day 3: I almost broke today…”

According to a study by Triple A, two thirds of drivers admit to talking on the phone while driving, and 1 in 5 say they send text messages. But in the same study, 95 % of drivers said that text messaging is unacceptable; and 70% said that talking on the phone is, too.

“Why people continue to do it is beyond me. It’s clearly unsafe. There’s just — there’s a disconnect.”

“So if you ask people ‘Are you impaired?’ They’ll go, ‘No, I think I’m the exception, I’m the one person who can do it…”

This is David Strayer, a professor at the University of Utah and one of the country’s leading experts on distracted driving.

“The active multitasking makes you blind to your own driving performance, so you don’t notice that you went through a traffic light, because you’re so absorbed in texting or dialing.”

Strayer has found that drivers on a cell phone have about the same crash risk as drunk drivers. Text messaging doubles that risk. It just takes longer for distracted drivers to react.

“A lot of times when people are talking on a cell phone, they just don’t see something in front of them, it creates something called inattention blindness where the light changed, but you just didn’t notice it.”

He says this doesn’t happen with a passenger, because the other person helps — pointing out hazards, or just stopping the conversation when driving is difficult.

“The accident is caused by the brain being overloaded, attention being so focused on the phone conversation that people don’t notice things just in front of them.”

“Sometimes, I wonder, who you’d be today…”

“It started out as a memorial site…”

Shelli Ralls posted this song on the website for her son, Chance Wilcox, who was killed in a car accident in Houston in March 2008.

“His hair was brown, his eyes were gold, his favorite color was blue, his love for all was true. He never left without saying I love you or a hug to hold. I miss you every minute of every day and someday I’ll be able to give you that last and first hug. Love mom.”

Chance and his friend were entering I-45 near Spring Cypress. A driver was talking on her cell phone, and veered over into Chance’s lane. His truck flipped three times before he was ejected from the vehicle. Ralls got the call four hours after his accident.

“And he was only 3 miles from our house. And they never came to get me, no one called me. That’s the one thing I live with the most, knowing that-that he lay there for four hours.”

On Chance’s website, Ralls posts videos on the dangers of distracted driving, and she was a part of Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” campaign. But she says we need more than education.

“We just need to have laws against texting. And it’s working towards that. If it were up to me, you shouldn’t even be using your cell phone in your car, but I realize that’s a big step to take all at once.”

“Oh…there it is.”

With an estimated 1 in every 10 drivers on the phone at any one time, it’s clear that this is a widespread problem. Researchers have proposed that there’s an actual addiction at work — that we get the same little high from hearing the ring of a phone that we might from smoking a cigarette. Dacia Clay knows how that feels.

“It’s kind of a hard thing to give up, you know, it’s like…it’s like giving up white sugar.”

And that helps explain it’s so hard to quit.

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