In the past two weeks, two U.S. fatalities were directly tied to texting while driving. During 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded nearly 6,000 deaths caused by distracted drivers. In other words, across the United States, sixteen deaths occurred each day last year due to drivers taking their eyes off the road.
Currently there is a push among legislators to pass laws prohibiting texting and cell phone use while driving. Federal funding for transportation-related needs is contingent upon it.
Beginning Aug. 1, drivers in Georgia can be pulled over and fined $150 for texting while driving. In Georgia, teens are also prohibited from making cell phone calls while driving. Legislation passed in May became law on July 1. Officers issued warnings until Sunday, when violators began receiving fines.
Earlier this year the Florida Legislature failed to pass a bill banning texting while driving. Dozens of bills have been presented in Florida’s House and Senate over the past several years to address driver texting and/or cell phone use. Restrictions have been opposed by the cell phone industry, by those seeking a more complete solution to distracted driving, and by elected officials who say the issue is already addressed by careless and reckless driving laws. Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, allowed the bill to die in committee in April this year, after it had been approved by another House committee and endorsed by the governor. Sen. Nancy Detert and Rep. Doug Holder, both Republicans of Sarasota/Venice, championed the most recent texting while driving bills.
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Several organizations have conducted research to document driver texting and cell use. The Pew Research Center completed a telephone poll in May 2010 of more than 2,200 adult cell phone users. An overview at PewResearch.org says, “Adults are just as likely as teens to have texted while driving and are substantially more likely to have talked on the phone while driving.”
Comparing the data to a 2009 Princeton Research survey of 800 teens, the research group found that 61 percent of adults report that they have talked on the cell phone while driving, compared to 43 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds. Of adult responders, 44 percent say they have been a passenger in a car whose driver used the cell phone in a way that put lives in danger. Among teens, 40 percent reported a similar experience.
AAA and Seventeen Magazine collaborated to publish a poll earlier this week. Of the 2,000 teens surveyed, 38 percent said they had been fearful of the actions of a distracted driver.
More than a third said they had been in a near-collision due to distracted driving. A full 84 percent said they felt that actions such as selecting music, eating or placing a call while driving were risky behaviors. In spite of all those admissions, 86 percent admit to engaging in distracting activities while the car they are driving is in motion.
AAA Auto Club South reports that texting while driving causes 35 percent longer reaction times, and a 91 percent decline in steering control. Text messaging causes a driver’s visual, manual and mental attention to be redirected. Statistics are showing that the result can be tragic.
Websites for further information: www.distraction.gov, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1633/, www.ghsa.org, www.aaanewsroom.net, http://handsfreeinfo.com.
Patty Harshbarger, of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.