If you’re not yet guilty of texting while driving – ever – then skip this article and go get in line with Mother Teresa, Gandhi and all the other saints.
But, if you’re like a majority of modern, mere mortals and have succumbed to the fierce temptation of TWD, then frankly, it’s high time for a reality check.
The fastest growing traffic-safety problem, say some experts, isn’t DWI but DWT – driving while texting.
What started out as a savvy teen’s way of staying connected to BFFs 24-7 has arguably become one of the most convenient ways for adults to communicate as well.
For those who were weaned on technology and are now old enough to use their own phones – in short, teens and young adults – mastering multi-media mobile devices is easy. For them, texting is second nature.
Older adults, on the other hand – at least those less attuned to everything-tech – often are slower and less adept with the tiny keyboards (whether physical keyboards, like the Blackberry, or virtual, on-screen ones, like the iPhone). But they’re texting anyway. Lots.
Hang out at an intersection and you’ll find “knee-drivers” are increasingly commonplace, sometimes with cell phone in one hand and PDA in the other.
A recent survey released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said adults are texting and driving at the same frequency as teenagers, while adults are more likely than teens to chat on their phones while driving.
The poll showed that 47 percent of adults who text reported sending or reading texts while behind the wheel. The study also suggests that teens are better educated about the dangers, and now the effort needs to target adults.
As a realtor, Hunter’s Creek resident Kitty Vann said texting is a necessary tool for her business.
“I’m texting and receiving texts from clients all day. When I started out I was just as bad as everybody else. Then the danger of it was brought to my attention, and I started to hear about the accidents,” said Vann, a mother to three grown children who now refuses to give in to the temptation to check texts while driving.
Others aren’t so disciplined. At one nail salon recently, a young woman walked into a nail salon with a ghost-white face after having run a red light because she was texting and not paying attention. She told people in the salon she came just inches from being hit by a truck.
Erik Konicki of Bellaire is a busy dad of 6-year-old twins who admits to getting caught up in a perceived need to respond immediately to incoming messages.
“It’s usually at a stop light,” said Konicki. “I know it’s dangerous. I have a hard and fast rule that I will not send or respond to texts while the car is moving. It’s just too dangerous, and if the matter requires an urgent response I’ll pull over and address the issue.”
West University mother of two and attorney Catherine Evans said she strictly abides by her personal rule prohibiting anything that distracts her from safe driving. If she absolutely has to use the phone, Evans employs a hands-free device. Her job title is vehicular crimes section chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and she said she’s seen the catastrophic consequences of being distracted behind the wheel.
“It may be the act or omission of a fraction of a second that causes a fatal collision. I see on a daily basis the devastation and tragedy caused by impaired, distracted or aggressive driving, and the grief suffered by the families is unimaginable. So many fatal crashes were 100 percent preventable,” Evans said.
“I understand why people want to do it, and most of the time things end up OK. But there’s no amount of explaining on the backend why that phone call or why that message was so important to the family of somebody who died. Everyone believes that they are vigilant enough or a good enough driver to handle it – until something horrible happens. None of our defendants wanted to kill the dad taking his daughter to work with him or the nurse on her way to work.”
In Texas, drivers are prohibited from using hand-held, cell-phone devices – to text or even to talk – in active school zones.
The same rule applies to bus drivers who have a passenger 17 or younger and any drivers who have had their license for less than 12 months. The school zone law prohibiting cell phones excludes hands-free devices, which means having a conversation on the speaker phone is allowed.
Bellaire and West University have joined the growing list of smaller municipalities implementing a texting ban while driving a car anywhere within the community. While the crime is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500, it is hard to prove, said Officer Tim Quimby with the Bellaire Police Department. As of early July, West University police said they had issued four citations for texting while driving.
A Tanglewood mom who didn’t want her name to be published said she has experienced texting terrors on the Gulf Freeway traveling to and from her second home in Galveston.
“They drift from lane to lane, and it’s not just teens anymore. It’s a lot of business men reading emails. My husband tried it the other day, and I nearly took his head off. I said, ‘You have two choices: you can pull over or you can let me out, but I’m not going to sit in the car while you kill us,’” said the mom of three.
Lindsey Martin of Memorial is policed by her 3-year-old boy, who calls her out on traffic violations.
“My son will say, ‘Mommy, yellow means you’re supposed to slow down,’” said Martin. “I definitely try not to text while driving, but if I’m at a stoplight I will take a quick glance. I do believe kids learn from watching you, not even just driving but during the course of the day, and we’re almost making them feel like the phone is more important than them because any time you get a text you pick it up as soon as possible whether you’re in the middle of a conversation with them or feeding them or whatever. I think there are certain times that you should just ignore your phone.”
And kids know it. One schoolgirl told her mother how her friend’s dad was texting during carpool. The mothers got together, and the friend’s mom called her husband on it. He promised never to do it again.
The body of evidence establishing the danger of texting and driving is growing. The same goes for behind-the-wheel emailing, “tweeting,” Facebooking and web surfing.
Car and Driver magazine experimented and found that texting and driving proved equivalent to operating a vehicle at nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content. How much alcohol this equates to can depend on a person’s weight, metabolism, amount of food consumed and how fast they drink, but a BAC drink chart estimates that to be about 3 drinks in a one hour period for an average-size person.
Some experts say reversing the trend will require more education about the danger. They point to three different kinds of distraction: visual, manual and cognitive. Texting involves all three.
“Parents need to know that everything kids learn about driving they learned from you,” said Evans of the district attorney’s office. “If they see Mom or Dad driving aggressively or catching up on emails while driving, that’s exactly how they will behave once they become licensed drivers. Conversely, kids who see their parents respect vehicles for the deadly weapons they are will hopefully mirror that behavior when they’re behind the wheel.”
Of course, mobile phones can increase safety as well, just not while driving.
“It’s a fabulous safety issue for these kids,” said one Tanglewood woman with a daughter in college. “I love that she and her friends can keep in communication, kind of like the buddy system, whether they are on the streets of Houston going from bar to bar or within a big fraternity party where the music is so loud. It’s a nice safety factor when you’re not driving.”
With the growing attention focused on the dangers of texting and driving, there is new technology making its way onto the market. Some companies have announced cell-phone applications, based on GPS systems, to disable a phone to send or receive texts while it is moving more than 10 mph. One application is called Textecution.
Another application called DriveSafe.ly will read a text message aloud. Other apps can send automatic messages to text senders that say, “I’m driving a car now. When I can pull over, I will call you back.”
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