In the past months I have become increasingly aware of the large numbers of people who are using cellphones while driving. To that end, while sitting at a stop light waiting for the light to change, I count the number of cellphone users driving past. Most of the time it is close to one in 10 drivers who are driving distracted.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's research confirms what I have observed. That is, 11 percent of drivers at any one time, during daylight hours, are using cellphones, and the National Safety Council estimates at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes -- or at least 1.6 million crashes each year -- involve drivers using cellphones and texting.
The Centers for Disease Control presents this information in regard to driving while using a cellphone: "Cellphones are the leading cause of all car accidents." While DUI deaths for 2010 were 11,000 individuals, those numbers are going down. The 2012 death toll was 10,322. But, cellphone use while driving in the U.S. kills thousands of individuals per year, and those numbers are going up. They will soon surpass the DUI deaths. Please note: These numbers do not reflect the large numbers of horrific injuries incurred in these accidents. NHTSA records show that DUI deaths have gone down 50 percent since Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980.
Drivers distracted by talking or texting on cellphones killed an estimated 16,000 people from 2001 to 2007, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health. The bad news is that texting while driving is up 50 percent. To add to this dilemma, one half of all high school students who drive text or email while driving. That is not simply talking on a cellphone but using the key pad to text or to send emails. Now that is really scary.
More to the point, a person is 23 percent more likely to crash if texting while driving (Edgar Snyder Law Firm research).
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in America. The Institute for Highway Safety confirms that there are 11 teen deaths every day on the road caused by distracted driving, and the use of the cellphone is the primary cause of those deaths. A new study published in the International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management found that four of five college students texted while driving. Are those your kids?
All the aforementioned organizations equate cellphone use of any type to be the equivalent of drunken driving. So why do so many ignore those facts? It is certain that they are against drunken driving. Do parents let their teenagers drive drunk? I don't think so. However, they apparently look the other way knowing their teenagers are the equivalent of drunk drivers when they have a cellphone in their hands and are behind the wheel. Are parents so cavalier as to believe that the statistics do not apply to them as well?
One of the biggest problems is that most individuals believe that all of this statistical data is irrelevant to them. That type of rationalization seems to be their key to happiness. However, some of them may end up as statistics themselves.
It is my recommendation that there should be a new and revised MADD program. It could be called MADD/MADD. Since drunken driving is going down and distracted driving from cellphones is going up, the problem is serious and needs to be addressed. MADD/MADD would henceforth be known as "Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Mothers Against Distracted Driving." It would involve signing a pledge to engage in neither of these two deadly activities.
To that end, the MADD organization is the one that might successfully lead the charge against this unnecessary mayhem and carnage on our roads.
Keith Appel is an artist and retired chairman of the art department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
By KEITH APPEL