Distracted drivers are a national epidemic. They are rapidly becoming public enemy No. 1.
According to a recent Harris Poll, fully three-quarters of cellphone users admit they use their cellphones to talk while driving. Two-thirds regularly use hand-held devices while driving, despite laws banning that activity.
Non-compliance rates are soaring. More than 50 per cent of 16- to 17-year-old drivers admit they talk on cellphones while driving and 34 per cent admit to texting while driving, according to the Pew Research Foundation.
"Dangerous practices of talking on cellphones or text-messaging while driving have become common and carry deadly consequences," writes researcher Erin Barmby in the McGeorge Law Review.
"Texting while driving is much more hazardous than talking on a cellphone while driving," concludes Fernando Wilson and Jim Simpson of the UNT Health Science Center. "Distracted driving is a growing public safety hazard -- the dramatic increase in texting volume appears to be contributing to an alarming distracted driving fatalities."
According to Heidi Nemme and Katherine White at Queensland University, distracted driving is "one of the main causes of road traffic accidents, responsible for one-quarter of all vehicle crashes."
They added the "risk of being involved in an accident increases by up to nine times if (a driver) is using a mobile phone."
Psychologists say texting or talking on a cellphone while driving is anti-social behaviour.
According to the Harvard Center of Risk Assessment, drivers using cellphones cause more than one million vehicle crashes in North America each year.
Nemme and White confirm 75 per cent of drivers aged 18 to 24 admit they text or receive text messages while driving. A recent study by A. Zhou and C. Wa at Trans Research indicates males are more likely than females to text while driving.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, text-messaging makes a vehicle crash 23 times more likely to occur.
"It is quickly becoming one of the top killers," the NHTSA confirmed.
Drivers who text while driving are six times more likely to cause an accident compared with drivers who do not do so.
A recent American Medical Association report says "the Federal Motor Carrier Association found texting while driving has the highest odds ratio for causing a vehicle crash relative to 16 other (distraction) activities."
Remarkably, texting or talking on cellphones while driving is acknowledged to be dangerous by 98 per cent of cellphone users, yet the activity persists and is on the rise. A Harris Poll found 26 per cent admit the activities are "very dangerous," 24 per cent "dangerous" and 33 per cent "somewhat dangerous."
Researchers say it is almost inconceivable that the activities should be so rampant despite knowledge of the inherent risks.
Accumulating research suggests these activities are so prevalent due to the "selfish entitlement mindset" of the so-called Entitlement Generation.
"There is a healthy sense of entitlement and mobile-phone technology fuels the entitlement problem," explained psychotherapist Randall Meadows. "The gadgets associated with mobile-phone communication technology have become status symbols."
The Entitlement Generation apparently feels it is entitled to use cellphones while driving because it is their birthright, regardless of the inherent risks to their passengers, other motorists and pedestrians.
According to K.A Braitman and A.T. McCartt of ARRB Group, the entitlement mindset is why "laws banning texting while driving have little effect on curbing texting while driving in any age group."
According to Eric Nelson and Paul Atchlen at the University of Kansas, laws "may not change patterns (of cellular use) while driving."
Meanwhile, Janet Roester of the National Safety Council cautioned that the pertinent risks are just as high if drivers use hand-held or hands-free devices, because "it is the minds, not the hands, of drivers that are adversely affected."
Robert Alison is a zoologist and freelance writer based in Victoria.