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Texting while driving = Tragedy

As texting becomes increasingly popular, drivers of all ages are facing the temptation to receive or send a text while driving. In case you haven’t spent much time with teenagers in the past few years, texting requires reading a message on a cell phone screen, and typing on a number keypad or miniature keyboard to respond.

Many studies have documented the dangers of distracted driving. And while texting seems harmless to those who love to text, it creates the worst kind of distraction. Texting takes the driver’s eyes, hands and mind off the road. For many drivers, those few seconds of distraction have led to tragedy.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. Many studies on cell phone usage while driving have been conducted and results have been consistently alarming.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute created an innovative method to study real-world driving habits over the course of a year or more. In the 100-Car Naturalistic DrivinG Studies cars were outfitted with equipment that captured driver habits and performance. It recorded video of the driver, and the front and back views from the car. Other devices monitored speed, lane usage and driving conditions. Use of cell phones and other devices was also recorded. In their first study in 2005, VTTI collected data on 15 accidents, 67 minor collisions and 761 near crashes. More than 8,000 other “incidents” were documented including leaving the lane, and evasive maneuvering. The study documented driver impairment and distraction for each of the events. Nearly 80 percent of the collisions and 65 percent of the near-crashes involved driver inattention. Cell phone use was the most common distraction leading to incidents and near-crashes. In a later study of the same design, VTTI found that when drivers texted, their risk of a crash or near-crash was 23 times higher.

These findings drive home the need to raise awareness.

It’s way too easy to try to read the text that comes in, even at 70 mph. There are many resources online that illustrate the dangers of distracted driving. Oprah Winfrey has declared April 30 to be “No Phone Zone Day,” urging drivers to turn off their cell phones. Young people around the country are taking a stand through ThumbWars.org. Teens are encouraged to wear “thumb socks” to demonstrate their intention NOT to text while driving. The website DoSomething.org has an appealing PSA on why not to text and drive.

YouTube is another source for PSAs created by the United Kingdom and by the state of Utah. A third video featured in April 2009 by the Today Show recorded a bus driver texting, then crashing. These are very graphic videos (not for young children) that will leave a lasting impression.

The website Distraction.gov was created in conjuction with the Department of Transportation Summit on Distracted Driving in September 2009. This website provides information on state laws, statistics, research and awareness efforts.

In next week’s column, look for information on new phone apps that can help deter texting while driving.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277 or patty@cr-bradenton.com.

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