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Driving While Texting: How Dangerous is it … and is it Illegal?


Getting a DWI may now be taking a backseat to DWT … Driving While Texting. First it was talking on the cell phone while driving and now Americans are upping the danger ante by sending text messages while driving -- and the results are deadly.

text while driving

Drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 send and receive text messages 66 percent of the time they’re driving, according to a Nationwide Insurance study.

Stories of people texting while driving and ending with tragic consequences are popping up in the news more and more frequently.

Recent Texting While Driving Catastrophes:

Studies show that more than 80 percent of Americans own a cell phone and more people are transitioning to texting over talking on the phone as their preferred form of communication.

The image of a person concentrating on reading and sending a text message while driving is an unsettling and frightening one and a leading contributor to accidents, such as these recent tragedies:

  • In September 2008, phone records revealed that a 46-year-old train operator was sending text messages when his commuter train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train near Los Angeles, claiming the lives of 25 people and injuring nearly 130 others.
  • In June 2007, five high school teenagers from a suburb outside of Rochester N.Y. were killed when the SUV driven by one of the friends struck a trailer-tractor that exploded into flames. Police found evidence that the teenage girl driving had been sending text messages right before the crash happened.
  • Just last month a trolley operator in Boston, Mass. rear-ended another trolley sending more than 40 passengers to the hospital. The trolley operator admitted he was texting his girlfriend at the time of the accident.

Teenagers Driving While Texting Spells Trouble

According to a Nationwide Insurance study, 20 percent of people out on the road are sending text messages while driving. Narrowing down the age group of those drivers, another study showed that percentage took a big leap when it came to 18 to 24-year-old drivers, who are sending and receiving text messages 66 percent of the time!

A study of 21 teens placed in a driver simulator revealed teens driving while texting:

  • Made sudden speed changes
  • Had difficulty staying in their lane
  • Ran over virtual pedestrians

“What this study demonstrates is that not only does your speed go up and down, you’re swinging wide left and right,” said Dr. Donald Lewis, of the Eastern Virginia Medical School and Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va., in a Live Science article. “You’re a hazardous driver, to yourself and everybody else.”

text while driving

5 Highest “Texting While Driving” States

A survey by Vlingo, a mobile phone software company, found the following states have the highest percentage of text drivers:

  • Tennessee
    (42 percent)
  • New Jersey
    (35 percent)
  • Alabama
    (34 percent)
  • Idaho
    (33 percent)
  • Oklahoma
    (32 percent)

In many instances, DWT becomes a deadly multi-tasking distraction.

Research has shown that what may appear to be a quick innocent moment of checking a text message or sending one can often lead to disastrous results.

Texting involves a dualistic form of multi-tasking requiring both physical and cognitive abilities. The physical distraction involves the holding of the cell phone and the cognitive requires visual comprehension to read and send text messages.

The end results are a delayed reaction time and inability to give full attention to the driving situation.

Lawmakers Seeking to Ban DWT

The California Public Utilities Commission took the steps to ban texting after the deadly Metrolink train crash in California, and presently many states have placed a ban on texting while driving. These states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • The District of Columbia

All school bus drivers in Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia are also banned from texting.  And in North Carolina and Texas, any driver under the age of 21 is banned from texting.

Companies like Verizon Wireless are also jumping on board the DWT ban. In May 2009, Verizon Wireless announced their plans to become active supporters of statewide bans on texting while driving. They have also expressed this on their Web site by including a recommendation for people to not use their phones while driving for any reason.

Legislators are urging parents to talk to their children about the dangers of texting and driving in the same conversation as drinking and driving and wearing their seatbelt. In addition there are some safe driving tips you can discuss with your teen before they hit the road.

10 Safe Driving Tips to Discuss with Your Teen

  • Resist the temptation to reach for the cell phone to answer it or send a text while driving

  • Encourage your teen to make putting on their seatbelt a habit

  • Remind them to stick to the speed limit

  • Explain to your teen the consequences of drinking and driving

  • Limit your teen’s driving at night, in poor weather conditions and heavy traffic

  • Stress to your teen the importance of being a good role model when driving with their friends and showing them responsible driving habits

  • Explain the two-second rule: when following another car, watch for the car to pass a stripe on the road and if you’re able to count to two before passing that same stripe, then you have enough distance and time to stop if the car in front of you suddenly stops

  • Put a limit on the number of passengers your teen can drive around

  • Sit down with your teen and write out a parent-teen contract listing your expectations and the consequences if they don’t follow them

  • Come up with a code word your teen can use when they call you to come pick them up in a situation they are not comfortable with, such as their friend drinking while driving

Recommended Reading

Extreme Driving Situation Programs on the Rise in Response to #1 Cause of Teen Death: Teen Driving

Warning: Certain Smells May Make You a Dangerous Driver (Really!)

Automobile Back-Over Accidents: How to Avoid a Surprisingly Prevalent & Serious Accident


CBN June 24, 2009 May 20, 2009

The Christian Science Monitor May 28, 2009

The New York Times May 8, 2009

Live Science May 4, 2009 September 18, 2008

U.S. News & World Report February 11, 2008

MSN Money

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