People have been joking for year that women will do whatever Oprah tells us to, but recently this has been thoroughly disproven. Mercifully, sequined Uggs never became America's "favorite thing," we refused en masse to even locate the OWN Network on our cable lineup, and now, despite Oprah's demand that we only text on the road if we're being chauffered, we're using cell phones while driving more than ever.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual analysis of Americans' driving behavior was released yesterday, and the Associated Press reports that it found texting while driving increased 50 percent last year. Apparently government officials are recording us at certain stoplights and intersections so they can observe how many people are playing with electronic devices (and compile statistics on America's nosepicking habits, though that report only gets released at the holiday party). They found that at any given time in 2010, 0.9 percent of drivers were distracted by their phones, up from 0.6 percent the year before. In telephone surveys, 18% of drivers admitting to texting or emailing while on the road, and the number among drivers ages 21 to 24 was twice that.
The results are particularly surprising since Oprah isn't the only one encouraging us to break the habit. 35 states have banned texting while driving, and since people still can't put down the electronics, officials want police to start cracking down. Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said:
"It is clear that educational messages alone aren't going to change [drivers'] behavior ... Rather, good laws with strong enforcement are what is needed. Many drivers won't stop texting until they fear getting a ticket."
Recent pilot projects in Syracuse, New York and Hartford, Connecticut found that more PSAs an increased ticketing cut distracted driving rates significantly, so there's a good chance these efforts will be expanding to other areas. Oprah was being the good cop when she was begging people to sign her "no phone zone" pledges. Now we get to deal with the actual cops, and they aren't going to be nicely asking us to put down the phones.
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