A small town in New Jersey is in the national news after passing a law that cracks down on texting while walking. Fort Lee police officers are writing $85 tickets to people who are caught jaywalking while staring at their cell phones or iPods. Robert Rosenberger is an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy, and his research explores the habitual relationships people develop with everyday devices.
Cell phone text messaging is a prime example of a technology with which users develop deep relationships. Using everyday technologies like the phone becomes so normal, so automatic, that we learn to barely think about the devices themselves and instead focus on whatever we’re using them to do. For instance, when driving, a driver might think about the intention to turn left at the light ahead, not about how she or he will grip the wheel and turn it to the left. For the experienced driver, wheel turning and pedal pressing happens almost automatically. For those accustomed to texting, typing with thumbs comes as second nature, and reading the abbreviations and acronyms common to texts becomes as routine as reading regular written language. In contrast, those not as familiar with texting will also think about the interface with the phone itself—the buttons, the screen, the conventions of abbreviation—while they compose and read text messages.
These phenomena have practical consequences on the issue of texting-while-driving. The behavioral studies clearly show texting while behind the wheel to be associated with a dangerous level of driving impairment, and a majority of states in the US have responded with traffic regulations. Of course the main problems are the manual distraction of taking a hand off the wheel, and the visual distraction of looking away from the road. But there’s also the mental distraction of interacting with someone not there in the car. The actions of typing and reading and interacting with a person in another location—even when they can be performed adeptly—are all things that take up some of our attention, and thus pull a driver’s focus away from the road.
While a majority of states have banned texting while driving, only a handful have laws in place that require drivers to use hands-free devices while making a phone call. However, Rosenberger says taht doesn't go far enough these days. Click here for more.
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