Driver stupidity up by half last year, study shows

Texting while driving increased 50% in 2010, according to federal safety data

Despite data proving its danger -- and despite something called common sense -- the number of drivers texting while behind the wheel last year increased 50%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The good news is that, based on the NHTSA's annual survey in which drivers are observed at selected intersections, less than 1% were spotted texting, tweeting, Facebook updating or otherwise manipulating mobile devices with their hands that are supposed to be on the steering wheel, people.

The trend, however, is troubling. The percentage of drivers texting (which I'm using as short-term for everything you can do while manipulating a hand-held device) reached 0.9% in 2010, up from 0.6% in 2009.

As the NHTSA notes, drivers are 23 times more likely to crash while texting. Here's why:

Texting is the most alarming distraction because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded. It's extraordinarily dangerous.

But as that passage implies, texting isn't the only dangerous distraction for motorists:

Using a cell phone while driving -- whether it's hand-held or hands-free -- delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.

Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%.

It's probably safe to say that texting while driving also rose this year, thanks to the continued proliferation of smartphones and social media sites encouraging people to document online every second of their lives, because it's important that the world know right now that you're just six days away from becoming the FourSquare mayor of the Burger King on Skyway Road in San Carlos.

Thirty-five states have passed laws banning texting while driving. But, as history shows, it's hard to regulate stupidity.

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