Inexcusable Impairment

Picture yourself driving down a freeway. It’s Friday and you just finished a long week of work. You’re going out with your friends later tonight and while you’re driving, you hear your phone go off. You reach down, pick up your phone, and take a peek at the screen. It’s your friend asking about the plans you have for the evening. You send them a quick text to let them know what the plans are, and you set your phone back down.

Harmless, right? You’d probably be surprised if I told you that during those few seconds while you were checking your phone, you drove the length of a football field completely blind to your surroundings. You’d also probably be surprised if I told you that during those few seconds, your driving was just as impaired as a legally drunk driver and you were 23% more likely to be involved in a crash.

NHTSA Crash Statistics show how many more accident related injuries are caused by texting than are caused by drinking.

This behavior is commonly called “Texting and Driving”. The state of Pennsylvania defines it as being a type of distracted driving. A penalty for texting and driving is a citation for distracted driving along with a simple fine of $50. Pennsylvania however has different penalties for impaired driving.

Impaired driving is when the operator of a motor vehicle is affected by something that inhibits their ability to operate the vehicle. An impaired driver can expect $300-$2500 fine along with 5 days to 6 months in jail with a citation for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). New statistics and crash data has suggested that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving and should be classified as a type of impaired driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 431,000 people injured in auto accidents directly related to texting and driving in 2014. This number eclipses the 290,000 injured due to alcohol related accidents. These numbers show that there were 48.6% more accident related injuries caused by texting and driving than were caused by drunk driving. The same statistics also showed that 16% of all fatal accidents were caused by people texting and driving.

Results from a Car and Driver Magazine study show how long it takes for an impaired driver to react.

Car and Driver Magazine conducted a conclusive study comparing the effects of texting and driving opposed to drunk driving. In a study to measure reaction time, they would signal a driver, traveling at 55 mph, with a red light telling them to apply the brakes. By taking a baseline of a sober and undistracted driver, then comparing the results to a drunk driver and a texting driver, they were able to measure the difference in reaction times for each type of impairment.

The results showed that when texting and driving, your driving skills are an overall 35% worse than normal. What makes those numbers look worse is when you compare them to those of a drunk driver. A drunk driver, at 55 mph, takes about four extra feet to react and apply the brakes. A driver texting takes 70 feet, over 17 times longer. This study concluded that a driver who is texting has an impairment level that is significantly more severe than that of a driver with a .08 BAC.

The legal limit in Pennsylvania for DUI is a .08 BAC. According to Car and Driver’s data, someone who is texting and driving is more impaired than someone who could be cited for DUI.

All of these statistics prove that texting and driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than drunk driving. There are 48.6% more injuries related to texting and driving than are related to drinking and driving. Also, a driver’s reaction time is over seventeen times worse while texting than while drunk. Numbers don’t lie. These numbers show why texting and driving is even more dangerous than drinking and driving. We all agree that driving drunk is a type of impaired driving and because texting and driving produces the higher levels of impairment, it’s time to change its classification from distracted driving to impaired driving.

In a survey conducted on campus, a shocking 62% of Penn State Students admitted to regularly texting while they were driving (Scamacca).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective “impaired” as, “Weakened or damaged”. When someone is texting and driving, it is statistically proven that their quality of driving is weakened or damaged. Not only do the statistics of texting and driving make it fit in with the other types of impaired driving (Drunk Driving & DUI), its definition makes it an appropriate fit too. The literal definition of the phrase “impaired driving” is “weakened or damaged ability to drive”: perfect descriptors of texting and driving.

After reading all that data you might think, so what? Why should I care? Why does changing its classification matter if it does nothing about the problem? There is where I disagree. You see, drunk driving has been on the decline in recent years due to its harsh penalties. Giving out thousands of dollars in fines and throwing people into jail was enough to significantly reduce drunk driving. By classifying texting and driving as a type of impaired driving, like drunk driving, it is possible to enforce these same types of penalties onto its offenders.

The texting and driving problem is getting worse and worse every year due to the simple fact that a $50 fine is not enough to motivate drivers to change their behavior.  On the other hand, the strict penalties for drunk driving were enough to get drivers to change their behavior. This same principle can be applied to fix the texting and driving problem. By changing the classification of texting and driving from distracted driving to impaired driving, it is possible to reduce the number of texting related injuries and fatalities.

With this new classification, someone caught texting and driving can expect the same penalties as someone caught drinking and driving. These penalties will in turn reduce the number of drivers who text and drive; therefore the roads will be a much safer place. Sure, going to jail and paying thousands of dollars worth of fines is terrible. But you know what I think is a hell of a lot worse? People losing their lives because your night’s plans “just couldn’t wait”.