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Setting an Example: Do You Text and Drive? Part 2

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Miguel with phones

Miguel Gomez, AIDS.gov Director

As we move ever closer to AIDS 2012, my workload as director of AIDS.gov has increased dramatically. Given the flood of e-mail and text messages I get every day, I have felt a great temptation to look at my Blackberry and my iPhone while driving. Even my laptop—which is always nearby—can send that siren song: “Look at me RIGHT NOW!”

But I know the dangers and, as the director of a program that strongly encourages the use of mobile technology, I also appreciate the importance of setting a good example. I resist!

When I’m working and I get a call from a colleague I know is traveling, I also have to remind myself to ask: “Are you driving?” If so, we make plans to talk later.

The risk is not theoretical. One of our AIDS.gov team members was recently in an auto accident during a work-related conference call. We want to keep our own team—and others on the road—safe by setting a good example.

We are not alone in being tempted, however. In recent surveys, about two-thirds of all drivers reported using a cell phone while driving; about one-third used a cell phone routinely. Approximately one-eighth of all drivers reported texting while driving  Exit Disclaimer.

Using Social Media Responsibly

Part of our core mission at AIDS.gov is to understand the benefits and uses of new media, including texting and social media. And this raises the question—what is our obligation to encourage responsible use of these tools?

We blogged last week about distracted driving (Do You Text and Drive?), and yesterday marked the end of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. But we must carry this message throughout the year–not just in April.

Using mobile technology while driving has particular risks. Research indicates that the burden of talking on a cell phone—even if it’s hands-free—requires 37% of the energy your brain would ordinarily devote to safe driving. Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction (PDF 2MB).

Government Responses

The National Transportation Safety Board is presently considering recommendations for a Federal law banning texting and cell-phone use—including hands-free devices—while driving.  In February, 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray Lahood, and the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administrator, David Strickland, presented proposed guidelines to encourage automakers to develop technologies to  limit the risk of distracted driving when using communication and entertainment features built into vehicles.

You can learn more at Distraction.gov.

I want to dedicate this blog post to asserting a commitment by the AIDS.gov team to refrain from using new media in dangerous and irresponsible ways. Each of us has an obligation to remind ourselves and our colleagues, friends, and family members about the dangers of using new media in situations where it could cause physical harm. Start by sharing some of these key statistics with your friends and loved ones.

Key Statistics

  • 16% of fatal crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. (NHTSA, PDF 374KB)
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Monash University, PDF 346KB)
  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. (VTTI, PDF 2MB)
  • Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. (VTTI, PDF 2MB)

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