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Texting under the Influence

The deadly cocktail of drinking and driving has met its match. Text messaging while driving, now illegal in New York State, is the number two cause of preventable automobile fatalities. As recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, 5,870 people lost their lives and an estimated 515,000 were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was reported.
Truck drivers, in addition to consulting large computer screens, are also texting. A huge semi drifting across a lane or two presents a grim image.
As a high school teacher for over 30 years, I commuted to school on major thoroughfares in my red Honda. Not only am I intimately familiar with city traffic patterns, but I know the mind of the typical teenager who often brags that he can drive and text at the same time. “It ain’t nothin’,” I have heard far too many times until … it is something.
Sadly, the newly enacted ban is far too lenient. On Sunday, November 1, texting while driving became a secondary enforcement law. In other words, a driver has to be pulled over for another infraction and if he happens to be texting at the time, he can be slapped with a $150 fine. Obviously, lawmakers are not taking the issue seriously enough.
It is not just a local or even a national problem. There were recent headlines reporting on a controversial 22-year-old British woman in Oxford who caused the death of a young woman while texting behind the wheel. Her Peugeot rear-ended a Fiat that had pulled off the road with a flat tire, instantly killing the driver. The officer who responded to the crash said, “Somebody is dead because of a text message.” British law regards “reading or composing text messages over a period of time as a gross avoidable distraction” and categorizes it as the same as driving while drunk or high on drugs.
The young aren’t the only ones at fault. I have had to discourage my own baby-boomer friends from texting behind the wheel. I thought I would jump out of my skin when my friend who was driving decided that trading texts with her daughter just could not wait until we reached our destination. I became confrontational. “You’re texting while driving?” I shouted. She handed me the phone and said, “You read it then,” at which point I refused to be party to her texting.
She got my message – the next time I slid into her passenger’s seat, she was outfitted with a Bluetooth device in her ear.
Just sending one text is all it can take and boom! You are dead and your self-involvement just might have taken out a few others to boot. With all of the horrors fraught upon the innocent from inconsiderate “it can’t happen to me” texting motorists, a national law must be enacted – and soon – before the death tolls become even greater.
Even a $180 “slap on the wrist” for talking on a cellular phone while driving has not been particularly effective. Just look to your left and to your right the next time you are on the roads. However, the threat of a jail sentence might do the trick. Lock up the text-messaging criminals and throw away their phones. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already adopted a ban on texting while driving, mainly punishable with fines. Utah however has the toughest law to date in cracking down on texting motorists in motion. After a crash that killed two scientists in Logan, offenders now face up to 15 years in prison.
Most teens, when asked, freely admit to texting on occasion and one in five say texting is a part of their routine. As a runner, that frightens me and I have taken to running in traffic free areas such as parks and on tracks whenever possible.
Taking your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to operate a keyboard needs to be a national punishable offense in order to be taken seriously. It is high time for all states to stop debating and start saving lives by enacting anti-texting while operating a motor vehicle laws with jail time as the penalty.

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