The problem of people texting on their phones while driving motor vehicles, and thereby putting themselves and those around them in potentially mortal danger, is an increasingly serious problem within the United States. This sample sociology essay explores this problem in greater depth including:
- Basic overview of the problem.
- Consideration of the relevant statistics regarding this problem of the course of the past few years.
- Theoretical reflection on the basis of the fact that the practice of texting while driving is more popular than ever
- Growing evidence and even general awareness of how dangerous the practice really is.
Texting and Driving: Overview of the problem
The problem under consideration here is straightforward enough: it simply consists of people texting on their phones while operating their cars on roads. This constitutes one form of distracted driving, which has been defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation as:
“Any activity that could divest a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety” (paragraph 1).
In principle, distraction could refer even to activities such as the driver eating food or talking with other persons in the car. In the contemporary world, though, distraction has become a much more serious problem as a result of the advent of portable technologies. For example, it is extremely common these days for people to drive while watching a movie, checking an electronic map, browsing the Internet, or texting on their phones. This a problem that could not have really emerged in the past in the way that it now has.
Indeed, the specific problem of texting and driving has become so severe that even some phone companies, who are of course one of the key stakeholders who enable texting services in the first place, have felt moved to make statements regarding the matter. According to the New Yorker Editors, the company AT&T released a thirty-five-minute documentary in 2013, essentially informing stores about ruined lives due to texting and driving in order to encourage viewers to exercise restraint with respect to texting when they are driving their vehicles. This could, of course, simply be a move on the part of the company motivated by the desire to improve public relations; but the very fact that the move would even be interpreted in this way itself testifies to the magnitude of the problem of texting and driving within the contemporary United States.
At the present time, several laws have been passed that outlaw the practice of texting while driving. As Ritchel has pointed out:
“Forty-five states now ban texting and driving, and education efforts have grown” (paragraph 19).
Again, this is another reflection of the magnitude of the problem at hand. Regarding prevention of the practice, though, there is some ambivalence about whether education really does produce meaningful results. This is due to the simple fact that virtually everyone is apparently already aware of the fact that texting while driving is an extremely dangerous practice—even as a significant majority of those same people nevertheless continue to engage in the practice (Ritchel). The implications of this contradictory state of affairs for psychology and society will be discussed in greater depth a little later on in the present essay. For the time being, though, it will be appropriate to turn to the relevant statistical material regarding the problem under consideration. This will help produce a more objective understanding of the scope of the issue.
Texting and Driving: The facts
Here are some of the statistics that have been provided by Edgar Snyder Associates regarding the practice of texting and driving in the United States:
“In 2012, 3,228 people were killed in distraction-related crashes;” “11 teens die every day as a result of texting while driving;” and “the National Security Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year” (paragraph 4).
These numbers indicate that texting while driving is more or less approaching the magnitude of an actual public health crisis that is putting the lives of significant numbers of Americans in danger, by far overshadowing the normal dangers associated with automobiles. Moreover, the assumption can be made that numbers regarding the prevalence of people who text while driving are likely underreported, insofar as many people will feel uncomfortable formally admitting about themselves that they engage in the practice—especially since they themselves in all likelihood know that it is wrong to do so.
Regarding this latter point, Worland has called attention to the following:
“A new study surveyed 1,000 drivers and found that 98% of those who text every day and drive frequently say the practice is dangerous. Still, nearly 75% say they do it anyway” (paragraph 1).
This means that universal awareness of the danger of texting while driving, statistics indicating that the practice is becoming a real public health hazard, and laws in 90 percent of the states of the United States banning texting while driving are all still apparently not enough to make most people actually change their own behaviors and personally refrain from texting while driving when they themselves are driving. Again, this is why there is some question over whether education would really help with addressing the problem at hand. The fact is that the statistics are available, and people know what they indicate. But people still continue engaging in this dangerous practice anyway.
Regarding the consequences of texting while driving, some interesting comparisons can be made regarding scope. For example, writing in the summer of 2014, Goad suggested the following:
“2,634 people have died in the USA so far this year as a result of texting while driving, which is 2,622 more than have died this year as a result of mass shootings” (paragraph 1).
This would be true even in the year of 2015, which has seen several mass shootings by now (such as the Umpqua Community College shooting). A similar point could be made, of course, with respect to the number of people who have died as a result of texting while driving on the one hand, versus the number of people killed by terrorist attacks on the other. The point here would be that public concern regarding the factors and behaviors that are actually causing real harm to Americans may be somewhat misguided and not grounded in the actual statistical evidence. That evidence emerges that texting while driving, along with other forms of distracted driving facilitated by technological devices, is steadily becoming a significant killer within the United States.
Connecting the theoretical implications
The fact that it has even become necessary to address the problem of texting while driving at the national level would seem to be indicative of a broader problem that the people of the United States perhaps have in their relationship with their own technologies. This could be summarized by Mohandas Gandhi’s concept of the “technology craze,” including the breakdown in communication caused by recent advances in technology. This has been discussed in some depth by Parel: the main point would be that people have allowed technology to become an autonomous power that dictates their behaviors, as opposed to wisely controlling technology through moral values and basic common sense. A person who texts while driving presumably does so because he feels that he “needs” to do it, as though the technology itself had a built-in behavioral imperative that he must obey. Thinking in this way, he fails to realize that he has full autonomous control over how he does or does not use his own technology. He also fails to consider the real danger in which his dependency on technology is putting him when the very purpose of technology in the first place was to improve his actual life.
This kind of criticism of technology has also been made by the philosopher Heidegger. According to Heidegger, the modern world has in fact been characterized by the emergence of a moral logic of technology for its own sake, with human beings seeing themselves as handmaidens to technological progress as opposed to grasping the fact that technology is in fact here to serve them. Among other things, this would mean that technology should not be used in such a way that it would imperil the life of the user. This is clearly relevant for the problem of texting while driving, insofar as the compulsion to use one’s phone while driving is indicative of an abdication of moral responsibility by the driver, on behalf of allowing technology itself to set the rules of what is or is not acceptable behavior.
People are addicted to their phones
In fact, this also calls attention to the fact that people’s relationship with their phones seems to be approaching the state of an addiction. As Goad has suggested, there is a tragic irony in the fact that several people who die as a result of texting while driving were in fact in the process of making jokes about how dangerous it is to engage in the practice of texting and driving. There is a madness and a stupidity in this state of affairs that can only be explained by the assumption that Americans are developing an increasingly unhealthy relationship with their own technological devices. This also explains why education regarding the problem is likely to be useless, as well as the statistics regarding the discrepancy between awareness on the one hand and actual practice on the other. Essentially, the way that people continue texting while driving even as they know how dangerous this is can be compared to the situation of a drunkard who keeps drinking even after doctors told him that he will surely die as a result. In short, there would seem to exist a problem at the psychological and emotional levels, and not merely at the level of reason.
Texting while Driving: An epidemic in America
In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the sociological problem of deaths related to the practice of texting while driving. The essay began with an overview of the problem, proceeding to consider the relevant statistical information, and finally engaged in a theoretical reflection in order to shed greater light on the core nature of the problem. A key conclusion that has emerged here is the fact that texting while driving, along with other forms of technology-related distracted driving, is becoming an increasingly severe threat to the well-being of the American people, and that it is thus appropriate to attempt to address the issue at the level of public policy. In truth, this problem is in some respects more dangerous than several other problems that occupy greater attention within the mass media and the public consciousness. This should change if at all possible.
Moreover, another important point that has been made here is that the practice of texting and driving is not rooted in a lack of awareness of how dangerous the practice is. Rather (and somewhat frighteningly), most people continue engaging in the practice, even with full awareness of how dangerous it is. This calls to mind the situation of an addict, who continues to engage in self-destructive behaviors even with the full awareness of the fact that those behaviors are in fact self-destructive. The theoretical reflection above has revealed that it could be appropriate to define the nature of the relationship between the modern person and his technologies as one of addiction. Insofar as this is the case, it would be necessary to take efforts above and beyond simple public policy in order to truly address the psychological roots of this dangerous behavior.
Edgar Snyder & Associates. “Cell Phone Use while Driving Statistics.” 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. https://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/cause-of-accident/cell-phone/cell-phone-statistics.html
Goad, Jim. “10 Grimly Ironic Texting-while-Driving Car Crashes.” Thought Catalog. 10 Jun. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://thoughtcatalog.com/jim-goad/2014/06/10-grimly-ironic-texting-while-driving-car-crashes/.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. Print.
New Yorker Editors. “Why AT&T Is Talking about Texting and Driving.” New Yorker. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-a-t-t-is-talking-about-texting-and-driving.
Parel, Anthony J. “Mahatma Gandhi’s Critique of Modernity.” Comparative Political Philosophy: Studies under the Upas Tree. 2nd ed. Eds. Anthony J. Parel and Ronald C. Keith. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2003. Print.
Richtel, Matt. “Trying to Hit the Brake on Texting while Driving.” New York Times. 13 Sep. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/business/trying-to-hit-the-brake-on-texting-while-driving.html?_r=0.
U.S. Department of Transportation. “Facts and Statistic.” Distraction.gov. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/facts-and-statistics.html.
Worland, Justin. “Why People Text and Drive even When They Know It’s Dangerous.” Time. 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://time.com/3561413/texting-driving-dangerous/.
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