Princess's Essay

Try not to plagiarize, kids...  Tom stated that I did not need to make a "References" page, but the text of the essay does a pretty good job of citing my sources.  Just thought I would share.  (Yes, I sent a one word text while driving -- to someone involved with my job.  It was dumb.  Super dumb.)

Distracted Driving in the United States: Statistics, Risks, and Behavior Patterns
By PrincessImp

The emergence of wide-spread cell phone use in the early 2000s afforded American citizens unprecedented levels of convenient connectivity with their families and friends as well as easy, efficient access to a wealth of information.  These luxuries, however, have come at some cost as people have increasingly started using their cell phones in public spaces, in their workplaces, and even while driving in their cars.  This essay will briefly address the growing epidemic of cell-phone usage while driving.  Specifically, three types of distracted driving will be defined, some statistics about distracted driving-related injuries and deaths will be presented, and two recent studies on American driver behavior patterns will be reviewed.   

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), distracted driving refers to any activity performed while driving that diverts one’s attention from the road.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that there are three main types of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive.  Visual distractions require the driver to take her eyes off of the road, such as changing the channel on the car radio.  Manual distractions involve removing one’s hands from the steering wheel, such as would be the case while eating or drinking.  Finally, cognitive distractions include any activity that requires the driver to take her mind off of driving, such as talking to a passenger or making a phone call.  Text messaging while driving presents a uniquely dangerous distraction, as it involves all three types of distraction.  That is, one must look at the phone, mentally compose a text, and then type and send it.  Despite the risks that such complex distraction can present, according to an estimate disseminated by NHTSA in 2011, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving at any given daylight moment across America.

Researchers have learned that drivers are notorious for overestimating their driving capabilities while underestimating the risk of distractions.  The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Massachusetts, for example, studied 41 drivers and compared their driving skill while undistracted, while distracted with a simple task, and while distracted by a complex task.  Objectively, the most complex distractions contributed to the greatest decrease in driver safety; however, the participants in this particular study were unable to recognize the differences in the complexity of the tasks presented to them and more alarmingly, were also confident that none of the distractions presented had any negative impact upon their driving skill.  In a 2014 study conducted by AT&T, with assistance from David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and professor at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine, over 25% of those study participants who admitted to text messaging while driving endorsed a belief that they could “easily do several things at once, even while driving.”

Similarly, one might argue that sending a short text message will bring little risk, as the task takes so little time.  In actuality, however, in the five seconds that it might take to send or read a text message, a distance equal to the length of a football field can be traveled while driving at only 55 miles per hour.  In other words, a driver who sends a short message makes a decision to drive three hundred and sixty yards with her eyes closed – something that no rational person would likely ever volunteer to try.  Furthermore, in a 2019 study conducted in conjunction with the University of Utah, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety set out to test the visual and cognitive demand created by Infotainment Centers in six 2018 car models.  They found that younger (aged 21-36) drivers took a mean speed of 27.7 seconds (the equivalent of driving just over one mile while “blind”) to send a text message while driving, while older (aged 55-75) drivers required an average of 33.8 seconds to send a text while driving. 

According to the NHTSA National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers in 2017.  There were 2,935 distracted driving-related fatal car accidents in the United States in 2017.  401 (14%) of these fatal accidents were specifically due to cell phone usage while driving and caused the deaths of 434 people.  A similar percentage of nationwide cell phone-related fatal motor vehicle accidents has steadily been reported each year since 2013.  Additionally, the CDC reports that 391,000 injuries were caused by car crashes involving distracted driving in 2015. 

Even as public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving has increased, many continue to do it anyway.  In 2014, AT&T and Greenfield conducted a telephone interview of 1,004 American cell phone owners between the ages of 16 and 65.  Each study participant stated that he or she drove at least once per day and text messaged at least once per day. 98% of those surveyed indicated that they were aware of the dangers of texting while driving; however, 75% of respondents admitted to doing so anyway.  This discrepancy between risk awareness and behavior patterns was justified or explained in a variety of ways.  For example, 43% of the texting drivers stated that they wanted to “stay connected” with family and friends.  33% stated that they texted while driving out of habit.  28% of text messaging drivers admitted to a fear of missing important information by not checking their phones.  Finally, 14% of texting drivers admitted to feeling “anxious” if they failed to respond quickly to a text message received while driving.

In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2019, Gliklich, Maurer, and Bergmark compared texting while driving behavior patterns in millennial parents compared to older parents.  They conducted a cross-sectional national online survey, with which they collected demographic data, inquired about texting while driving with children in the car, asked whether a family pediatrician had ever inquired about texting and driving, and administered the Distracted Driving Survey (DDS).  The DDS is a validated measure that assesses the frequency of one’s reading and writing of text messages, one’s use of cell phone apps while driving, and the highest speed at which one has engaged in any cell phone activity while driving within the past thirty days.  Drivers between the ages of 22 and 37 years of age were considered to be “millennials,” while all older parents were placed into a separate category.  Ultimately, the study included 225 millennials and 210 older parents from 45 states in the U.S.  In total, 68% of all respondents admitted to having read a text while driving, while 54% had written a text while driving within the past thirty days.  Although millennial parents reported having read text messages while driving more frequently than their older counterparts did, both millennial and older parents reported having written text messages while driving at statistically comparable rates (19.5% compared to 13.8%, respectively).  Lastly, millennial parents had statistically higher DDS scores, indicating a higher rate of risky behaviors that are associated with national motor vehicle crash rates.

In summary, this short essay has addressed the problem of distracted driving – and specifically, the use of cell phones while driving, in America.  Three types of distracted driving were reviewed, recent statistics about distracted driving-related injuries and deaths were provided, and some research data about the distracted driving behaviors of the American public were detailed.  Though distracted driving is clearly pervasive in our nation, it also brings significant, unnecessary, and entirely preventable risk both to the one driving and to others on the road as well. 

Addendum: “Tom,” – I am really sorry about the lapse in judgment that I demonstrated last week by sending even a brief text message while driving.  Even before writing this essay, I knew that it was thoughtless, irresponsible, and foolish.  Having written the essay, I recognize my choice as having also been arrogant, selfish, and immature.  That unnecessary text could have irreparably changed our lives and the lives of others – for absolutely no good reason.  Next time a similar situation occurs, I will allow the “I’m driving” message that auto-responds to texts while I am driving to speak for itself.  If I absolutely feel that the auto-response is insufficient, I will wait until I can stop somewhere safely (NOT at a stoplight) to respond.  I love you. - Princess

💖 PrincessImp


  1. Nice job on the essay. Nice job Tom for coming up with something that drove the message home.

    1. Thanks, Boo! As for Tom, don't encourage him!

      Also, uh, I'm gonna need you to start that blog it looks like you created. Chop, chop, lollipop! 🍭 Hahaha.