OMG: Texting drivers crash, maim, kill — to the tune of 1.6 million annual accidents

Nearly 28% of crashes, some 1.6 million per year according to the National Safety Council, can be attributed to drivers who are talking on cell phones or texting. Crossing the intersection of Clement Street and Arguello Blvd in San Francisco an hour or so ago I almost made it 1.6 million plus one: driver on phone, self on foot, alert driver blasted horn at talking driver with whom I thought I’d made eye contact (apparently not) or this space would’ve been toast. Are we a nation of nuts, or what?

The issue has gotten the attention of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, folks who see the reality of these abstract statistics every day. The two groups have joined forces to launch a print and PSA campaign designed to staunch the wound.

The campaign features a bloody, shattered windshield accompanied by the words:  OMG! Get the message. Texting while driving is a deadly distraction.

It’s definitely time. According to the AAOS release, “general statistics on distracted driving are startling:

  • 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some type of distraction. (Source: Virginia Tech 100-car study for NHTSA)
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)
  • The worst offenders are the youngest and least-experienced drivers: men and women under 20 years of age. (NHTSA)
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Wall Street Journal “Driver’s Seat” blogger Jonathan Welsh posted a commentary somewhat courageously including himself in the Bad Guy category in discussing the billboard camapaign:

So, when did you stop texting behind the wheel? It’s a loaded question, but appropriate for many if not most of us. I don’t think I know anyone with a mobile phone and a driver’s license who doesn’t tap out the occasional message while driving.

In the era of multitasking and rapid communication, driving and texting are a tempting combination. Too bad it’s so dangerous.

“To say this habit can be deadly is the truth. It is an outcome we unfortunately see every day,” said AAOS president John J. Callaghan. “The problem with the use of 24/7 communications devices is that every driver believes he or she is immune to slip ups, but isn’t.”

Of course many people are so immersed in typing or reading their handheld screens that they might miss the billboards as they drive past. We have all seen — or even performed — outrageous driving maneuvers after distractions caused us to stray from our lane, miss an exit or nearly run a red light. I find that once I get over the initial anger I always feel at least a touch of empathy.

This space feels no empathy at all. It’s easy to be righteous when you never got into the phoning/texting/driving habit, and easy not to have done so if you were grew up in the dark ages before cell phones were invented.

Still, staying alive is good. I hope the lady driving the beige SUV through the intersection of Clement and Arguello gets the message before it’s too late.

Texting While Driving: Medical Groups Speak Out – Driver’s Seat – WSJ.


  1. Reports also show, and studies suggest, that a full 100% of auto accidents involve cars or trucks.

    Instead of advocating even more interference by The State in the daily lives of people, why not advocate stricter licensing requirements?

    The fact of the matter is, because someone elderly can’t handle the multi-tasking needed to talk on a phone and drive a car, doesn’t mean someone who is 25 or 30 can’t.

    This is at least the tenth column I’ve seen you write that advocates outlawing a perfectly legal activity engaged in literally millions of times per day on the roads of dozens of countries around the world.

    It’s obvious you’re pushing some sort of agenda. Why don’t you, and the rest of the “There oughta be a law” crowd just head out to somewhere like California, where you can all take turns bossing each other around and dreaming up crazy laws with stiff penalties and harsh fines.

    1. Well gosh, uncertain, I DO live in California, but we try not to boss each other around. My agenda is pretty much to live and let live. I’m afraid a lot of folks 30 and under who were multi-tasking while driving are no longer doing either. But you’re sure right that this elderly person can’t, and it helps others continue to live when I don’t try.

      1. Well, gosh, I should have figured.

        If you aren’t mentally capable of performing two tasks at once, don’t *you* text while driving – the consequences could be disastrous.

        I’m perfectly capable of accomplishing texting and talking on a phone (sans hands-free devices). Just because you’re uncoordinated, why should I and those equally capable suffer at the hands of The State because you found something you can’t handle, and therefore want outlawed?

      2. Go for it, Uncertain, and blessings on you. I will continue to try to stay out of the way of texting/phoning drivers, some of whom I think are not as gifted as you, if accident statistics are to be believed.

  2. Time for the penalties for texting or cell phoning to be exactly the same as for drunk driving, or are the accidents caused by texting less awful because the person wasn’t violating Puritanical values?

    1. The problem is distracted or impaired driving. Whether it happens because someone is drunk, tired, medically incapacitated, distracted by kids, or fiddling with the radio seems irrelevant to me.

      We never should have gone down this morality check of trying to figure out what the driver was doing at the time of the crash. The point is to hold the driver responsible for his or her actions.

      1. Well, yes, but some distractions — drinking and texting are two — seem to lend themselves to correcting by making illegal. I think both of the above are addictions. As someone who knows addiction — I’m an abstinent alcoholic and a former smoker — I really believe it should be possible to put the phone down and drive. Texter/drivers seem not to be getting the message of how dangerous they are. Your point is well made: drivers must be responsible and accountable.

      2. I’m asking this question because I really do not know how to process what you’re saying. Would a law prevent someone with addictive behavior (such as texting) from doing an activity that might be hazardous?

        Do laws prevent drunk driving? Or do they merely punish the offenders?

      3. Laws clearly don’t prevent drunk driving, Jake, but I think they serve as a deterrent. In my drinking days I tended to stay off the road, which kept me out of jail and probably a lot of people alive. Had the threat of a hefty fine or worse not been there, there were plenty of times I would’ve driven when it was a very bad idea. So even if an awful lot of folks still drive drunk, I think you’d see the DUI-related accident rates go up if it were legal. (As texting/phoning-related accident rates are continuing to do.)

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