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Data Shows Why Texting While Driving Is so Dangerous

As accidents caused by drivers distracted by cell phones gain wider media attention, the phrase "texting while driving" has firmly entered the nation's vocabulary. Texting while driving is illegal in Oregon, with few exceptions, and many other states are joining suit.

Studies show that texting while driving is very dangerous, maybe even as dangerous as drunk driving. One study found that a texting driver going 55 MPH on a highway typically drives the length of a football field without taking his or her eyes off the phone.

Young people in their 20s are most likely to be in car accidents involving texting while driving, accounting for over 30 percent of crashes, according to recent data. In one survey, half of those between ages 16-24 admitted to the practice.

This is no surprise, as young people are more likely to be overconfident about their ability to multitask. However, unlike other distractions, such as listening to the radio, texting engages the driver manually (hands), visually (eyes), and cognitively (attention), all at once.

Scientific studies show that multitasking is basically an illusion, because the human brain cannot actually handle two tasks simultaneously. The best it can do is quickly switch between them. Texting while driving easily overloads the brain, and the brain simply fails to process important information such as road signs and red lights.

Americans - and their representatives in government - recognize the dangers of distracted driving. In recent surveys, nearly 90 percent of respondents agree that texting while driving is dangerous and should be illegal.

Many countries, including Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, have outlawed the practice. Although many disagree over whether laws should target only teenagers or handheld devices, most U.S. states, including Oregon, have acted.

Source: "Cellphones and distracted driving: What happens when the brain is overloaded? The answer will surprise you," mlive.com, 2/5/12

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