– Two recent tragedies underscore the danger of texting while driving, according to The CEI, Group, Inc., a global provider of fleet services. On the day before Thanksgiving two years ago, a high school senior was driving less than a mile from his Denver home and texting a friend, when his girlfriend suddenly screamed. When the teen looked up, he was just inches from a cyclist in the bike lane. The resulting collision killed a 63-year-old grandfather and changed the teen’s life forever.
Last June, police outside Rochester, N.Y., said a 17-year-old girl received a text message on her cell phone just seconds before her SUV slammed into a truck, killing her and four girlfriends. Traveling at 60 mph in a 55 mph zone, the SUV swerved into oncoming traffic, hit a tractor-trailer and burst into flames. The accident occurred just five days after the teens had graduated from high school together.
Wireless industry observers say Americans send more than 7 billion text messages a month, and a lot of them involve people at the wheel of a moving vehicle, according to Ed Corbally, director of safety and risk management services at The CEI, Group.
He said a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance this year found that one in five drivers admits to engaging in text messaging while driving.
While the problem is greatest among younger drivers, it’s not limited to teens. The Nationwide study found that 46 percent of drivers aged 16 and 17 said they “text” while behind the wheel. But it also found that 37 percent of those aged 18 to 27 do it, as do 14 percent of these between the ages of 28 and 44, and two percent of those aged 45 to 60.
If one California man – a 27-year-old engineer — is typical of texting drivers, most are oblivious to the real dangers. “It may be dangerous,’’ he said, “but it’s dangerous for two seconds, as opposed to having a long conversation. A text seems so simple that it seems that you should be able to do it whenever and wherever.”
But this carefree attitude flies in the face of some recent studies about distracted driving, Corbally points out.
In 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-creases involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event.
University of Utah researchers reported in 2003 that using a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. They said talking on a cell phone makes you four times as likely to be involved in a serious auto accident as a driver not using a phone, and that texting was even worse, raising that risk by another 50 percent.
Pollsters say nearly 90 percent of Americans think texting while driving should be outlawed. Near the end of 2007, it was illegal only in the State of Washington, but effectively illegal in three other states (New Jersey, Connecticut, New York) and the District of Columbia, which banned using cell phones without a hands-free device. As many as 30 more states either recently passed anti-texting laws or are considering bills to outlaw it.