by Liz Coram
How many people text behind the wheel of their vehicle? Can we relate to the following story? Jaci Lemons* is driving down the street, headed to school. The 17 year old driver is texting another friend. As she looks down to read the incoming text, Jaci veers off to the right and crashes head-on into the back of a parked vehicle. She is taken to the hospital, but after brief examination by the attending ER doctor, Jaci is released. Thankfully, the only thing bruised is her pride, and her pocketbook. Missouri should make texting while driving illegal for all drivers, not just the drivers aged 21 and under. Missouri has passed a state law, on Aug. 28, 2009, that prohibits drivers 21 years of age or younger from sending or reading a text while driving. While that is a great start, it isn't enough. Drivers across the country have been seen in their vehicles doing all sorts of dangerous, weird, and downright strange things while driving. Watching a DVD movie (really), dressing, putting on makeup, eating, texting, etc; but texting is what is causing legislatures some concern here in Missouri. The problem is we spend so many hours behind the wheel that seemingly, we are driving on "auto pilot". (Have you ever driven a while and then could not remember any of it?)
"Young people will be forced to at least keep their fingers off their keyboards while they drive,"said Leanna Depue, director of Highway Safety or the Missouri Department of Transportation. "The law is a small step toward counteracting some of the distracted driving that causes crashes in Missouri." And, according to a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving is the leading cause of traffic crashes in Missouri, as well as across the country. 80% of crashes involve driver distraction; mainly that texting is the number one thing that distracts motorists' attention while driving. Half of all teen drivers say they text while driving. HALF. It's almost unthinkable to realize so many drivers don't have their eyes on the road. Couple that with the sobering fact that most cars on America's roadways are traveling approximately 65 to 70 miles per hour.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, statistics show that "teenagers have the most problems texting while they are driving, probably because they text more than anyone else and send longer texts than their adult contemporaries. Some teens can very easily burn through a thousand minutes of texting in no time". Twenty-three other states, along with Missouri, have already made texting while driving illegal. While texting while driving a car should not be legal in any case, the law in Missouri allows drivers over the age of 21 to text while they are driving. Motorists in some states are allowed to use a cell phone while they drive, as long as it's hands-free. Most states already have laws against talking on the cellphone and driving; however, what doesn't make any common sense at all is allowing those over the age of 21 to text and drive while banning those under 21 to do so.
Take for instance, 38 year-old Donald Rios*. One afternoon, while traveling to another town, he was texting a co-worker about picking up some 4 by 6's for their job site. In the meantime, traffic was slowing because a farmer was burning his fields next to the interstate. Donald Rios looked up to see that traffic was nearly at a standstill, and he could not stop in time. He rear-ended the back of another vehicle, and in turn, a semi rear-ended him, causing his truck to cave in like an accordion. Subsequently, Rios lost his life in the accident...all because of his inattentiveness to the road ahead. Legislation encouraging laws which ban texting have also been encouraged at the federal level with proposals suggesting that any state who didn't ban texting could risk losing federal highway funding. Missouri is the 23rd state to ban texting while driving, but is 1 of 9 to single out a particular age group. The fine for texting while driving under Missouri's new law is $200. Senator Ryan McKenna sponsored the bill.
An insurance industry study has revealed that accidents increased in 3 of 4 states that has laws prohibiting texting while driving. The study, prepared by Highway Loss Data Institute, says it looked at accident statistics from insurance claims in four states that have made it illegal for motorists of any age to text while driving, as well as nine states with no, or limited bans; in three states, accidents increased dramatically after the bans passed. Those were California, Louisiana and Minnesota .
So, how does law enforcement actually catch you texting while driving? How can they tell if you were texting if you don't have the phone in plain view? Here's how: If your phone is destroyed in an accident, the phone company has a log of all texts and calls, which are also logged with the exact date and time. Phone companies keep a log of text histories just like a computer does of websites and pages. Please don't text (or do other distracted hazards) and drive. Your life, as well as others' lives depends on it.
*(not real names)