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What are the dangers of texting at an intersection?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, over 3,000 people died in traffic accidents in the month of December alone in 2016. While there may not be as many cars on the road this year, it is still important to make smart decisions when driving this holiday season.

Dr. Brian A. Coon, PhD, PE, a traffic engineer in our Wichita office, has a traffic safety tip related to cell phone use while driving. You probably know it is illegal and unsafe to text while driving, but did you know that using your cell phone at an intersection is dangerous too?

Using your cell phone while stopped at an intersection is dangerous.

Just because the light is red doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be watching traffic. If the light turns green at a signal and you are not paying attention while on your phone, multiple actions could cause unsafe or irresponsible driving conditions.

  1. If you’re watching your phone instead of paying attention to traffic conditions, you won’t be ready when the light turns green. If you wait five seconds to go after the light turns green, it doesn’t just waste your time, but all of the drivers at the intersection. “Twenty cars in each direction means eighty drivers have to wait those five seconds—that’s 400 seconds of time wasted at each light,” Dr. Coon said.
  2. Some drivers may be angry when you don’t advance at a green light and honk. This can cause road rage or anger for all drivers involved. Why add to the anger on the roadways? Is checking that text or email that important? The answer is no.
  3. Just because the light turns green doesn’t mean it’s safe to go. Other drivers may run a red light. If you’re looking at your phone and go when the light turns green, you may pull out in front of someone. “Imagine a crash takes an hour and a half to clear,” Dr. Coon said. “With thousands of vehicles per day on our busy roadways, that delay means you are sitting in your car instead of spending time with your family and friends.”
  4. When you do advance, you might try to make up time and accelerate quickly. This is unsafe because there could be opposing traffic that wasn’t there when the light initially turned green. “You only have so much time that opposing traffic will wait for you to finish that text—at some point, they’ll pull out in front of you while you’re finishing that last line in an email,” Dr. Coon said.

Dr. Coon has over 20 years of traffic engineering experience. These decisions can also impact traffic engineers, who determine timing at traffic signals.

“If those influences cause longer signal timings, traffic engineers need to adjust,” Dr. Coon said.

Overall, you should not use a mobile device when driving, even when stopped at an intersection. Traffic safety influences not just you, but all drivers around you. It is essential to keep your eyes up, refrain from using your phone and always be aware of your surroundings when driving.

“An easy way to reduce yours and others’ waits at red lights is to stop texting and pay attention,” Dr. Coon said. “A single accident can take hours to clean up and cause years of total delay for the motoring public.”