When a friend of mine recently confessed to me, “I’m just not very good at texting and driving; I don’t know how people do it,” I almost fell out of my chair. Turns out, this friend was being serious and genuinely believed that texting and driving can be an acquired skill. I explained to him that texting and driving is never safe. Study after study confirms this: driving while distracted by a cell phone greatly increases your chances of causing or being involved in a crash and poses a grave risk of death or serious injury to everyone on the road. Several studies have even shown that texting while driving is just about as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
The risks associated with texting and driving, and cell phone use in particular, are significantly greater for drivers of large commercial vehicles such as tractor trailers. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), for instance, showed that truck drivers who text while driving are greater than 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash event than those who do not.
The DOT study also showed that texting truck drivers took their eyes off the roadway for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving more than a football field without looking at the road ahead! A fully-loaded tractor-trailer typically weighs between 70-80,000 pounds (by comparison, the average car weighs less than 5,000). It is not difficult to imagine how much death and destruction one can inflict by texting while driving a semi-truck.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which govern the operation of all commercial motor vehicles over 10,000 pounds, expressly prohibit texting or using a hand-held cell phone while driving. The Commercial Driver’s License manual, which establishes minimum safety standards in the trucking industry, even strongly discourages hands-free (i.e., Bluetooth) cell phone use. Yet many trucking companies allow, encourage, or even require their drivers to use cell phones or similar devices while driving, such as for navigation, checking in at distribution centers or delivery destinations, dispatch, etc.
Despite the well-known and well-documented risks associated with texting and driving, cell phone use while driving tractor trailers is, unfortunately, still on the rise. A 2019 Oregon State University study, for instance, showed that 45% of truck drivers openly admitted to using a cell phone while driving. Cell-phone-related traffic fatalities rose 23.6% from 2011-2015. Over about that same span of time, overall fatalities from large truck crashes also rose about 20%. The number of fatalities attributed to distracted driving increased more than any other contributing factor, including those caused by excessive speed and alcohol impairment.
As I told my friend in response to his confession, the best thing to do with your phone when driving is to keep it out of reach. If you need it for navigation, make sure you type in your destination before starting your trip. If you use your phone for music, have a playlist ready to go beforehand. You need to devote all your attention and focus on the roadway and driving defensively — especially with so many other distracted drivers out there.
Thankfully, Ohio passed a law this week – O.R.C. 4511.204 Driving while texting – which strictly prohibits any active cell phone use while driving. Regardless of purpose, drivers are not allowed to “manually enter letters, numbers, or symbols” while operating a motor vehicle.