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Tolling Points

Don’t Make Your Phone a Lethal Weapon on Memorial Day: Think Zero Deaths

Bill Cramer

Before you head out on the open road for the Memorial Day weekend, as some 34 million people are expected to do, there’s a new, essential item to add to your highway safety checklist.

You’ll want to check your tires, fill up the gas tank and pack your emergency kit. Plan your route and keep your maps (or mapping app) easily at hand.

If you travel give you the option of choosing a toll road, we suggest taking it for a safer, more reliable ride, to make sure you reach your destination on time when you want to spend your weekend with family and friends, not stuck in traffic.

But there’s another statistic that should give you pause—and get you thinking about your own driving habits. According to a recent study by driving analytics firm Zendrive, U.S. drivers use their phones while they’re behind the wheel for 88% of their trips.

They spend an average of 3.5 minutes out of every hour on the phone, when we know that a two-second distraction increase the risk of a collision by 20%.

“Everyone knows distracted driving is dangerous,” Wired magazine noted in its report on the Zendrive research. “Everyone knows it’s happening, and that it’s responsible for deaths on American roads”—3,500 deaths in 2015, nearly 10 per day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Zendrive’s research shows that state policy is an important part of the solution to a mounting epidemic: “of the six states with the lowest levels of distracted driving,” Wired notes, “four ban hand-held phone use while driving.”

And behavioral scientists are scrambling to better understand what motivates people to phone or text while driving, and how to get them (us, you) to stop.

But let’s be clear.

The laws and regulations are badly needed. But when governments try to legislate common sense, it often doesn’t end well.

You don’t need a rulebook to know better than to slam your hand down on a hot stove. You don’t need the government to tell you not to jump off a third- or 20th-floor balcony.

The choice you’re making isn’t any better when you decide to pick up your phone while you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle.

If any of your road trips are among those 88% where people are using their phones while driving, make this Memorial Day the moment when you resolve to learn a new safety habit. It’s one of the best ways to make sure you’ll be around for Labor Day, rather than leaving your grieving loved ones to plan your memorial.