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A little more concentration, a little less texting, please

For every six seconds of driving time, a driver text messaging will spend nearly five of those seconds with their eyes off the road. Neither talking nor texting while driving on a military installation is allowed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrea Thacker)(RELEASED)

Texting behind the wheel is so dangerous that it can impair a driver's response time by 18 percent and it makes drivers eight times more likely to get into an accident, according to the website www.texting-while-driving.org. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrea Thacker)(RELEASED)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- For most of us, driving is fairly uneventful. Whether we are going to work, to meet up with friends or to return home, most of us spend our time in our vehicles listening to talk radio or singing along to our favorite songs.

But every now and then, while driving, we hear the familiar tune from our cell phone that indicates one thing: we just got a text message. For most of us who have owned our cell phones for more than a week, our Pavlovian conditioning immediately kicks in. Upon hearing that tune, we instinctively reach for our phones in order to satisfy our curiosity of what information the text message contains.

I am writing this article to tell you that we all must fight this programmed urge to read and respond to text messages immediately, especially while we are driving. Texting while driving is a dangerous distraction and not only is it unsafe, it is unlawful while on Nellis Air Force Base and may soon be unlawful in the state of Nevada.

Some people say that because their text message is short, it only takes a few seconds to type and send, so it is not a big distraction from driving.

The truth of the matter is that texting is a distraction, regardless of how short a time period the driver is looking at his or her phone.

Texting behind the wheel is so dangerous that it can impair a driver's response time by 18 percent and it makes drivers eight times more likely to get into an accident, according to the website www.texting-while-driving.org.

The website also states that a Clemson University study, which used a 3-D driving simulator, found that as students texted while driving, they spent 10 percent of their time out of their lanes.

Other people defend texting while driving by saying that they can text while holding their phone in one hand next to the steering wheel. Thus, since they are still looking up and out the front windshield, they are just as safe as drivers who are not texting.

The problem with this argument is that holding up one's phone next to the steering wheel is dangerous because it negatively affects the driver's control of the car. The driver only has one hand on the wheel and, in an emergency, the driver would not be able to control the wheel as quickly or as appropriately as he or she would be able to if his or her other hand was free.

"In 2006, the Department of Defense implemented a regulation, which mandates that drivers will not use cell phones unless their vehicles are safely parked or unless they are using a hands-free device," said Suzanne Bollinger, Nellis Security Forces reports and analysis security specialist.

"The purpose of this regulation is to make sure drivers have maximum control of the wheel by having two free hands available. Since we implemented the regulation, there have been no accidents at Nellis due to texting on a cell phone," said Bollinger.

A third argument some people use to defend texting while driving is, since their phone's text messaging feature is voice activated, they do not have to type their message. Thus, voice activated texting is similar to talking on the phone.

The problem with this claim is that people still need to push some buttons before they can begin voicing their text message. Additionally, they need to read over the message if they want to be sure the phone correctly wrote what they intended their message to say. They also need to push a few buttons in order to send their message.

Therefore, even with voice activation, there is still a need for people to push buttons and to look at their screens, which means these people are still considered to be distracted drivers.

For those of you who may not think safety is enough of a reason to put down your cell phone while driving, you should know that there is a good possibility that texting and using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving may soon be illegal in Nevada.

"In June 2011, the Nevada legislature passed a bill that would prohibit all drivers from texting or using a hand-held cell phone while driving," according to the article "Nevada Cell Phone and Texting Laws" on www.drivinglaws.org.

The article goes on to say, "the texting ban would prohibit drivers from using a cell phone or other wireless communications device to access or search the Internet, or to type, enter, send, or ready any non-voice communication, including text messages, instant messages or email... Violation of the law would be punishable by a fine of up to $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense within seven years and $250 for a third offense within seven years. Higher fines would be imposed on drivers who violate the law in traffic control zones."

Currently, the law instructs officers to give warnings to drivers who text or use their cell phones while driving. If this new ban is signed into law, these fines will be imposed beginning in 2012.

Ultimately, the message we all need to understand is simple: texting while driving is dangerous, it is unlawful on Nellis Air Force Base and it may soon be unlawful in the state of Nevada.

We all need to fight our well-trained instinct to reach for our phones as soon as they make a noise and we need to stop texting while we are driving. If this means that we must put our phones in the trunks of our vehicles so that we are not even tempted to reach for them while driving, so be it. There is no text message that is more important than our safety. We should concentrate on driving and respond to those text messages when we have nothing else to do.

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