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The dangers of distracted driving

By Samantha Bernstein

Colorado is one of 26 states that have categorized text messaging while driving as a primary offense. The statute has been implemented due to a shocking increase in fatal accidents as a result of distracted driving.

According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 51.4% of teenage drivers have admitted to texting while driving.

It seems as though it’s too late to stop the snacking, makeup-applying, radio blasting and cellular conversations, and now few teenage drivers or others have given up the dangerous habit of texting while driving.

Drinking and driving is by no means a mild offense.

However, the consequences for driving while under the influence do not come close to distracted driving. Why is it that the threat of a DUI deters some from making that fateful mistake, while the fear of death, supposedly humanity’s greatest fear, is not enough to keep the cell phones at bay?

A poll by Harris Interactive, a market-research firm, asked teenagers, ages 14-17 whether they thought they would die one day if they regularly text and drive. 35% said yes, compared to 55% who thought drunk driving could prove deadly.

The threat is not yet perceived to pose enough danger to override the convenience of a quick message.

A study conducted by Car and Driver yielded results that proved texting and driving to be the most perilous of all vehicular distractions.

An unimpaired driver takes approximately .54 seconds to brake. But for one who is legally drunk, his additional time to stop would add four feet to the distance that the unimpaired driver takes to stop. Now add 70 more feet to stop for a driver sending a text message!

The 66-foot difference still doesn’t make us want to ride with someone drunk, but the huge lapse between the two in statistics calls into question our judgment about riding with someone texting.

By no means is this only a teenage-driver issue, but the largest group that texts while driving remains teenage and new drivers.

The Intermountain Jewish News surveyed teens in Denver, who asked to remain anonymous, and asked them why they text and drive despite the dangers.

One teen said, “I only text at stop lights because I don’t think it is dangerous as long as the car isn’t moving.”

When asked about the seemingly superfluous need to talk to someone this instant, most teens said they are “talking to the person they are about to meet,” or “arranging my plans for the rest of the day, so I don’t want to put it off until later.”

Some teens say, “We would never text and drive, the risk isn’t worth it,” but admitted that they have noticed many others doing it.

“Just the other day, I passed a car that seemed to be going exceedingly slow on the highway, when I got within sight of the driver I saw that she was texting.”

According to the Transportation Research Board, 29% of teenage drivers look away from the road for three seconds at a time while texting. Three seconds is nothing worth noting in everyday life choices, but when it’s three seconds at 60 MPH, anything can happen.

So what is being done to combat this problem?

Effective Dec. 1, 2009, Colorado House Bill 1094 was implemented. It calls for a ban on cell phones for drivers under 18, and prohibited those over 18 from sending text messages while driving.

Violations of this law result in a $50 fine and are classified as a Class A traffic infraction.

This is a good start, but due to the difficulty in monitoring cell phone usage, very little change has been observed. In fact, officers are noting that there may even be an increase in accidents since the bill passed because drivers are now trying to conceal the offense — which leads to more distraction.

Education about the dangers of texting and driving is seen as the most effective way to stifle this trend.

Besides regularly going through the risks of distracted driving, setting an example is also a useful tool to prevent further cases. Parents who text and drive are far more likely to produce young drivers with the same habits because neither will see the risk as something directly applicable to themselves.

Texting and driving isn’t just dangerous for the driver, but the rest of the drivers as well. Scarcely do we put our own lives in danger, so why would we want to put someone else’s life at risk, too?

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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