Texting is one of the worst distractions while driving because it’s a visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. Despite this, many people still do it. They tell themselves their text is too important to wait or that they’re choosing a “safe” time to do it. The truth is, however, that texting and driving is never safe. In fact, it’s pretty much like driving blindfolded. You would never do that, would you?
Unless you’ve got a setup for hands-free texting, you’re going to need to look at your phone to send a text. At minimum, this process likely includes:
How long does this entire process take? If you’re very fast and it’s a short text, it could take about one second per step, or about 5-6 seconds total. This is consistent with the average of 5 seconds per text estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is assuming you’re not also reading a specific text to respond to it, which would also add time.
You miss a lot looking away from the road for five seconds. To put this in perspective, if you’re going 55 miles per hour, you car will travel a little over 80 feet per second. Multiply that times five, and you’ve traveled more than 400 feet. That’s greater than the length of a football field, which is 360 feet long.
Think you’re a quick texter, or that your longest glance away from the road is just three seconds? That’s still traveled more than 240 feet, about two-thirds of a football field.
Only texting at low speeds? Going back to that five-second text, let’s say you’re moving at just 20 miles per hour. That’s about 30 feet per second, which would put you almost halfway down the field. Would you willingly drive that distance down a road while blindfolded?
Of course the danger is not the distance covered. The danger is what you may miss when you look away from the road. A big part of safety is staying focused on the task of driving and expecting the unexpected. When you’re focused on your phone, you might not see:
Ask anyone who’s been in a car crash and they’ll tell you: it happens fast. Looking away reduces your time to react, which can be the difference between avoiding danger or being in a crash.
Once you notice the danger, you don’t stop instantly. Your car will still travel forward while you think and consider your actions. Then, the distance it takes you to stop once you hit the brakes will depend on your speed and the road conditions. Together, this thinking distance and braking distance will be your stopping distance.
Let’s say you’re traveling along the highway and the driver in front of you slams on their brakes. Once you notice, it could take a few seconds for the danger to register and for you to move your foot and apply the brake. Remember our above calculations? If you’re going 55 mph, you’ll travel 160 feet in just two seconds. This reaction time tends to be about the same regardless of speed.
Once you’ve applied your brakes, it will take time for your vehicle to come to a complete stop. How long it takes is based in part on your speed. The faster you’re going, the longer this will take and the greater distance your car will travel.
As you can see, at 55 mph, it could take almost 300 feet for your car or truck to come to a complete stop. The numbers here assume ideal conditions, including good tires and clean, dry, level pavement. This is why it’s critical to pay attention to:
As we mentioned above, the reaction time doesn’t change much based on speed. There is nothing you can do to speed up your physical response. When you’re distracted by your phone, you’re postponing the beginning of this reaction. Even worse, you’re hurtling full speed toward danger as though you’re blindfolded. This adds significantly to your overall stopping distance, possibly doubling or tripling it!
So, put your phone down when you get behind the wheel. It may only take a few seconds to send a text, but texting and driving can cost you your life.