Cell phones and cars don't mix, but the number of high-level advocates against the practice now have the backing of one of the most influential women in the mainstream media.
Powerhouse Oprah Winfrey declared a national "No Phone Day" on May 1, a move that drew praise from a variety of safety advocates as well as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The number one issue that Winfrey and LaHood focused on is texting while driving.
In all, the event spanned more than just her popular television show as rallies took place in Atlanta, Washington D.C. and other jurisdictions
"My biggest hope for the No Phone Zone campaign is that it becomes mandatory that no one uses their phone in the car or texts while driving - just as seat belts are mandatory, just as driving while drunk is considered absolutely taboo," Winfrey noted, according to a New York Times report. "I'm hoping that this becomes not just law, but second nature for all of us."
The movement to ban texting while driving is a growing force, with about half of all states having some sort of law against the practice, and slightly fewer banning the use of mobile devices without a hands-free device such as a headset or equipment involving the vehicle's stereo. But as recent graduates of online traffic school
can attest, the true measure of how important not using a cell phone is comes via the statistics.
Journalists at Car and Driver did a famous test last June where they compared the effects of drinking and driving to that of people who text. Among the writers, most of whom are considered good drivers, reaching the legal limit for alcohol increased reaction time by less than the amount that texting did, regardless of age. The differentials worked out to about 15 feet to more than 40 feet more for texters, or an entire one to three car lengths.
A more recent study from the United Kingdom demonstrates that in many cases, the reaction time of people who text is even worse than those who are inebriated or under the influence of illicit substances.
The data has led to LaHood's Transportation department creating a template for states to use to create anti-texting bills, as well as Obama's presidential order banning the practice by those on interstate commercial trips including trucks and buses.
Many are hopeful that the inclusion of a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey will help reinforce the concepts some people learned in traffic school about minimizing distractions. While the data and the anecdotal evidence of families who lost loved ones during texting-related accidents are a start, the national stage Winfrey has could bring the story closer to home for many.
In addition, motorists in states outside of the rallies most likely saw the highway notification boards filled with "National No Phone Day" messages to highlight the dangers, ensuring that the gist reached drivers who were unable to catch the Oprah Winfrey Show or who may not have taken the messages to heart.