Blog Behavioral/Mental Health

No text is worth a life: The dangers of distracted driving

Written by Lauren Duhl, undergraduate in global health & environment, environmental studies, and design at Washington University in St. Louis

Distractions while driving can be deadly. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers. In the United States, more than 1,000 people are injured every day due to distracted driving.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has always been a concern. There are three forms of distractions that may occur while driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions occur when a driver averts his/her eyes from the road. Manual distractions are those that draw the driver to take his/her hands off of the wheel; and cognitive distractions tend to shift the focus of the driver away from driving safely and attentively.

Texting While Driving

In this age of technology, mobile phones have become the major and most deadly distraction yet. Texting and driving encompasses all three forms of distractions, making it an especially dangerous and hazardous habit that plagues our country. Our generation can’t seem to keep their eyes off the screens. In fact, according to the United States Department of Transportation, approximately 660,000 drivers use their electronic devices while driving during the day. To those 660,000 people, driving while texting doesn’t seem dangerous. In reality, this distraction can potentially lead to injury or the death of many.

Within five seconds of sending or reading a text message, a car going 55 mph has already passed the length of a football field. Within those five seconds of inattentive driving, no driver is able to control the fate of the road. And so, it is of utmost importance that the driver is fully focused on the task of driving.

Distracted Driving Laws

Texting and driving is a choice – a choice that puts all drivers in danger as soon as they get behind the wheel. So how do we stop this epidemic? What is being done to stop our community from distracted driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is dedicated to eliminating distracted driving throughout the country. The NHTSA has sought to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving, and has partnered with various states to eliminate these risky behaviors that put thousands of American drivers in danger.

Map of texting bans throughout the United States, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.

Specifically, in an attempt to make our roads safer, the state of Missouri has banned texting while driving. However, while 47 states have banned texting for all drivers, Missouri instead has only outlawed texting while driving for commercial vehicle drivers and those under age 21.

There is absolutely a need for stricter, more defined laws to ban texting behind the wheel for those of all ages. However, in the meantime there are some suggestions on breaking the habit.

What You Can Do to Help – as noted by the Federal Communications Commission

Give clear instructions – Give new drivers simple, clear instructions not to use their wireless devices while driving. Before new drivers get their licenses, discuss the fact that taking their eyes off the road – even for a few seconds – could result in an injury or even death.

Lead by example –No one should text and drive. Be an example for others and if you need to text or talk on the phone, pull over to a safe place. Set rules for yourself and your household regarding distracted driving.

Become informed and be active – Tell family, friends and organizations to which you belong about the importance of driving without distractions. Take information to your kids’ schools and ask that it be shared with students and parents.

State laws  Currently there is no national ban on texting or using a wireless phone while driving, but a number of states have passed laws banning texting or wireless phones, or requiring hands-free use of wireless phones while driving. For more information on state laws, visit

For more information  For more information and statistics about wireless devices and driving, visit

Print out  Texting While Driving Guide