EDITOR'S NOTE

Are You ‘Intexticated'?

We can't wait for a law to stop us from the dangers 
of texting while driving

Posted

My name is Denise, and I have texted while driving.

There, I said it. They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Apparently, a lot of us are "intexticated." We know it's dangerous, but we still do it.

Although 81 percent of people think texting while driving is "a very serious threat to safety," 35 percent had read a text and 27 percent had sent one while driving within the previous month, according to the AAA Foundation's 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index which surveyed 3,896 people of driving age.

Five seconds. That's the minimum amount of time a driver's attention is taken away from the road while texting. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Texting while driving makes a crash 23 times more likely, more than dialing (2.8 times), talking (1.3), listening (1.3) or reaching for a device (1.4), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Several studies have been done that show driving while texting is just as dangerous — or more so — than driving while intoxicated.

Of Florida's 256,443 reported crashes in 2012, 4,841 had a driver who had been texting or using an "electronic communication device" while driving, according to a preliminary report from the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles.

The Florida Legislature approved a bill to ban typing or reading texts or emails on mobile devices or tablets while driving, though "ban" might be overstating it a bit.

Drivers are still allowed to text at stoplights and can use their devices' talk-to-text features. It's a secondary offense, meaning police can only cite drivers for texting while driving if they're first pulled over for another infraction, such as speeding. And the fine is only $30, an amount not large enough to dissuade many habitual texters. A subsequent violation within five years is $60 and adds three points to the driver's license.

It took at least four years for the Legislature to pass this bill in the face of House Republican concerns of government intrusion into people's lives. The House managed to include a last-minute amendment allowing police to use drivers' mobile phone records against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury. The bill allows drivers to use phone records in defense against a ticket, but some phone companies' records don't differentiate between manual and talk-to-text messaging.

Thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands already have texting-while-driving bans for all drivers; most of those are primary laws, meaning an officer can ticket a driver for the offense without any other traffic violation taking place. Ten states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving; 36 states and D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice drivers, usually those younger than 18.

But even with all of those laws in place, 
a driver has little chance of being ticketed 
for texting, with some state agencies averaging fewer than one citation per day, according to a USA Today survey of state police agencies. Some tickets are written by local police, 
while others are written by state troopers or police. Many states don't track texting-while-driving citations.

How often are police writing texting citations? No one seems to really know. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is in the middle of a major study to determine how many texting citations are issued annually.

"I think there's a general perception that there isn't [much enforcement]," AAA President and CEO Peter Kissinger told 
USA Today.

So, if we know texting while driving is dangerous, and the laws either don't have enough teeth or enough enforcement to make a difference, what can we do?

It's up to us. Only we can control our own behavior in any meaningful way.

I've known I shouldn't be texting in the car for a long time. I made a promise to myself not to text while my daughter's in the car, and I've kept it. Her life is too precious, and I don't want to pass on my bad habit. But my fuzzy logic still allowed me to text when I'm alone in the car. It's just as dangerous, not just for me — but for other drivers.

I've vowed to check my phone only at stoplights, but the lights inevitably change while I'm still typing the last few words. Not a good idea. It's one of the biggest weaknesses of the recently passed bill.

I recently purchased some thumb bands that say "TXTNG KILLS" to keep in my car and put on when I'm driving (textingthumbbands.com). There's a larger one that wraps around my phone that says "W8 2 TXT." I also bought some for each of the drivers in my extended family.

There are several pledges you can take with your family and friends, such as ATT's itcanwait.com or textinganddrivingsafety.com's 1 million drivers campaign.

And here's my new plan: Every time I get the urge to text while I'm in the car, I will ask myself if I want that to be the last thing I ever read or type. OMG, right?

By the way, if you're driving a car while reading this, put down the device (or the magazine — reading print while driving is 
just as dangerous). And please wait to send me your email or tweet until after you've reached your destination.

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