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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Put that phone away when driving

A new survey study from UC San Diego shows that distracted driving is highly prevalent among college students. Researchers found that along with frequent cell phone usage while driving, college students overestimate their driving abilities in comparison to their peers.

About 5,000 participants from nine colleges in the San Diego area completed the study. The study found that 78 percent reported using a cell phone while driving.

Linda Hill, a clinical professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego, said that both the overinflated college students’ confidence in their driving abilities and the high frequency of cell phone usage were both quite high. “Students think that they are better multitaskers than other people,” Hill said.

She said that 46 percent of students think of themselves as capable or very capable at using their phone while driving, but these students considered their peers equally skilled only 8.5 percent of the time.

Hill said that 76 percent of students reported not knowing that using a cell phone while driving has an equivalent delay in reaction time to driving with a Blood Alcohol Level of .08 — the legal limit.

“We have to look at it like other health problems; like drinking and secondhand smoke,” Hill said. “Your behavior affects other people.”

Hill said that we need to get away from the social norm of responding as quickly as possible to others when they call or text.

“People need to fight the temptation of appearing to not be socially responsive,” Hill said. “They have to train themselves not to drive distracted, even if it means keeping phones out of reach while driving.”

Hill said that one troubling factor is that hands-free devices do not appear to be much better than using cell phones. Although drivers may be less likely to move their heads with hands-free devices, they still do not pay enough attention on the road, however, more research needs to be done on this.

Jill Rybar-Waryk, research program manager at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, said they were not surprised with the results.

“Maybe the willingness of students to text while on the freeway was surprising, but I think it just validated what we personally see on the roads,” Rybar-Waryk said.

Rybar-Waryk said that more needs to be done to change the belief that it is OK to drive distracted. She said that society needs to take precautions and get others to do the same.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s why officers stop people while driving distracted; they’re exhibiting the same symptoms of a DUI,” Rybar-Waryk said.

Sergeant Danny Sheffield, a UC Davis police officer, said the police department receives daily complaints from both pedestrians and bicyclists reporting distracted bikers on campus.

“They [electronic devices] have become a very big distraction,” Sheffield said. “It’s very dangerous, and it seems to be extremely prevalent in the younger generation.”

Sheffield said that on one occasion a student almost ran their bike into his police car because they were sending a text message while biking.

Along with this, Sheffield said that though it is currently not illegal to bike while on a cell phone, it is a “nuisance to the public.” He said that students should be educated that legislation might be coming that will make it illegal to bike while on a cell phone.

“The peer support and peer pressure component are the best things that can be done right now,” Sheffield said. “Peers need to encourage friends and others to stop.”

“In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction and an estimated 448,000 were injured,” according to distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving. More specifically, texting “creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.”

“Don’t drive distracted. When on the phone, you are not paying enough attention,” Hill said.

ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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