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DWT to DOA: How to Stop Driving While Texting

Has any human invention simultaneously brought such joy and such sorrow, such utility and such danger, as the cell phone? Well, the gun, obviously. And Britney Spears. But as this blog has been concerning itself lately with the annoyance of the ubiquitous cell phone, that's the one I'm addressing today.

Study after study
has shown that talking on a cell phone while driving increases the likelihood that you will have an accident. Text on a cell phone and you may as well be driving with your eyes closed. The grown-ups among us may have a hard time believing that anyone would be so foolish as to send a text while driving but the younger generation knows what I'm talking about. This story by my colleague Ashley Halsey shows how some people text as if their life (and by that I mean "death") depended on it.

What's to be done? As Ashley's story explains, it's hard to get anti-texting or -talking laws passed. The New York Times has been running a sobering series of articles on the subject of distracted driving.

I wish the police would ticket more (any?) people who are talking (non-hands-free; not that that makes any difference) or texting on their cell phones. But we need to educate ourselves. And parents need to educate their children: Talking on the phone while driving is a bad idea. Texting is a really bad idea.

Perhaps that discussion could include showing your kid this short film created by a police department in Wales. A note warns of the film's graphic content. It reminds me of some of the films they used to show in driver's ed. But it's also believable. With both of my teenage daughters learning to drive now--taking the wheel on trips with us to build up their hours--I'm reminded of how quickly things can go wrong. A moment's inattention can be catastrophic.

The British like these grim public service announcements. When we lived in England we were surprised by the graphic PSAs shown before movies urging viewers not to talk on the "mobile" while driving or drunkenly climb construction scaffolding. Do they work? Well, I don't think they can hurt.

So: If you've the stomach for it, watch that Welsh PSA. And, please, don't text and drive. I'm not so much concerned about you killing yourself. It's the risk that you might kill me or someone I love that I'm worried about.

By John Kelly  |  August 20, 2009; 9:24 AM ET
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I live in New Jersey as a transplant from Maryland. I would not recommend that anyone move to NJ just for the reason (actually any reason), but it is against the law to text while driving here. The idea to make it against the law, was give to Senator Moriarty by his then 12 year old daughter, who called her dad out for texting on his blackberry while driving. He then saw the light.

Posted by: jojokimmo | August 20, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

We better make sure all cars have automatic transmissions too; people can't be distracted by having to shift. Or what about those truckers; CB Radios AND all those gears to shift through? How about law enforcement? Those badges must be magic, because they're exempt from the cell phone ban (here in NY). Gimme a friggin break and take some personal responsibility. Drivers have always been fumbling with something while driving; tuning a radio, looking for that specific 8-track/cassette, scanning the CB radio for someone to chat with, car phones, cell phones, multi-disc cd changers, checking their pagers - SOMETHING! Look, if you're in a slow and/or non-congested area, talking is no different than fidgeting with your stereo (or, as I mentioned, truckers/police using their CB's/radios). If I'm talking and get in a congested area, I PUT IT DOWN. Texting is different, but that's why I don't text while driving unless at a red light or something, and even then it's brief and I keep and eye on the light. If it turns before I'm done, they recipient is going to have to wait. The point is, ticket and hold accountable those who are negligent and just stupid about it, but blanket laws over things like this are ridiculous. There are far more important things for lawmakers to focus on than people talking while driving on their cell phones.

Posted by: mconnor379 | August 21, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

My name is Matt Howard and I am a co-founder of ZoomSafer, a Reston VA based company that has developed innovative software for mobile phones to prevent distracted driving.

1 year ago I nearly killed a 9 year old boy when I was texting and driving. Since then I've dedicated myself to developing a service that properly contextualizes the driving experience and helps people make better decisions when driving. Our public beta, featured in TIME Magazine, FOX News, and countless blogs is due to release in 10 days and we'd be delighted if you would give it a try and tell us what you think.

Make no mistake about -- distracted driving is a huge and complicated issue. It is my opinion that the solution will come from a balanced combination of education, legislation, and technology.

In regards to education, i personally like humor-tactics better than scare-tactics, but i suspect both are useful.

In regards to technology, i believe we need to create a range of practical solutions that not only stop people from making bad decisions -- but give them safer alternatives to communicate while driving.

Thanks for the opportunity to post.

Matt Howard
Founder, ZoomSafer

Posted by: matthewjhoward | August 21, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Anyone that wants a real education on the dangers and stupidity of this, they need to see this

Posted by: JodieG | August 23, 2009 3:39 AM | Report abuse

AAA Carolinas traffic safety department supports all efforts on educating the public on distracted driving, specifically texting. The cell phone is one of the greatest and most used technological tools of the 21st century. It has become a major part of our everyday lives. In fact over the last 10 years cell phone usage in the United States has increased from 34 million to 203 million. Do you know anyone that doesn’t have one?

As this technology grows so does the way we use it. In the beginning cell phones were used for making phone calls. Today we use it to email, check our bank account, keep track of appointments, and yes, text our friends, family and co-workers.

Unfortunately traffic safety research hasn’t kept up with technology advances. For instance we now know that talking on a cell phone while driving has the same characteristics of a person who is impaired. That study was released by the University of Utah in June 2006, 30 years after the first mobile phone hit the market. Meanwhile driving while talking on a cell phone has been an accepted practice for over 20 years.

Texting is a wonderful tool and I will admit I use my cell phone in almost everyway possible way but not when I drive. As a safety expert I also know when we are pushing the limits with technology. If you ask, “do you think texting while driving is dangerous?” the overwhelming answer is yes. Yet every day I see more and more people texting, checking email and doing everything but paying attention to driving.

That is why AAA Carolinas Traffic Safety Department has taken on this issue and supports every effort to educate drivers on the dangers of texting while driving. We have lobbied both North and South Carolina to pass laws to prevent texting while driving.

The Carolina Motor Club for Traffic Safety has made it our goal to educate people about the dangers of texting while driving. The foundation has run an awareness campaign using billboard ads, gas pumps ads, car magnets, posters for every high school in North and South Carolina, and we have written articles in our Go Magazine.

Research is still ongoing on the dangers of texting while driving. We really haven’t quantified the dangerous implications of this distraction in our vehicle. As a father, safety expert, and former firefighter, I can tell you anything that takes your eyes off the road and prohibits you from being a safe driver puts you, your family, my family and anyone that is driving around you at risk. We all know texting while driving is dangerous, but we still don’t know how to convince ourselves that it is not just affecting the person texting it is endangering everyone around us. Please put down the phone and drive.

Written by:
Steve Phillips
AAA Carolinas Traffic Safety Manager

Posted by: sgphillips | August 24, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

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