DWT Offense: Driving While Texting?

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A new problem on America's highways is called DWT or Driving While Texting.

A new survey found that one in four cell phone users text while they drive. The consequences are often dangerous and can be deadly.

More than 80 percent of Americans have cell phones and these days a growing number of people spend more time communicating via text messages than they do talking.

CBN News asked cell phone users just how much texting they do.

Cassie Hughes of Delaware said she uses 13,000 text messages a month.

"I probably have like 200 already today," Tyler Novak said.

"Like at least 300 a day," Kristin Rossi also of Delaware said.

Today cell phones are used for sharing a number of things. For example, some cell phone users use text messages to share pictures and videos while others communicate the latest happenings at work or school.

Hughes explained her preferences for cell phone texting.

"Homework, friends, gossip, drama," she said.

For the most part, texting is harmless, but new research shows that driving while texting has become a big problem in this country.

CBN News hit the streets of the nation's capitol to find out just how many people text while driving.

"Sometimes," Lewis Dillard of Maryland commented.

"Yeah, I'm an offender," Angela Schmidt admitted. "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't do it, but I do."

More than 25 percent of cell phone users admit that they text while driving.

A survey by The Vlingo Consumer Messaging Habits found that nearly 60 percent of drivers between 16 and 19 drive and text.

Of drivers ages 20 to 29-years-old, 49 percent drive and text. And 13 percent of drivers in their 50's text when they are behind the wheel.

In some states, the figures are even higher, with Tennessee being the worst where 42 percent polled say they send texts while behind the wheel.

Research also shows that it only takes a few seconds of multi-tasking for drivers to be distracted.

Things like putting on make up, or changing the radio station are sure ones. So how much more distracted will drivers be if they try to send or receive a text message?

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., explained that driving while texting is a big distraction for drivers.
 
"If you think about texting that combines a cognitive distraction of having a conversation with someone with the physical distraction of holding something and the visual distraction of actually looking at it," she said. "I think even without studies most of us would know that texting when you're driving is a dangerous thing to do. It puts yourself and other drivers at risk."

A lot of evidence supports McCartt's research.

Police in New York believe that texting may have been the cause of a horrific crash that killed five high school cheerleaders in 2007.

Bailey Goodman was driving her friends to her parents' vacation home when her SUV, which had just passed a car, swerved back into oncoming traffic, hit a tractor-trailer and burst into flames. Five days earlier, the five teenagers had graduated together from high school in Fairport, a Rochester, N.Y. suburb.

Goodman's inexperience at the wheel; evidence she was driving above the speed limit at night on a winding, two-lane highway; and a succession of calls and text messages on her phone were cited by Sheriff Phil Povero as possible factors in the June 28 crash in western New York.

Safety experts say the bigger the vehicle the person is driving while texting, the greater the danger.

A few months ago a trolley in Boston, Mass. smashed into the back of another one. At the time of the accident, the driver was texting his girlfriend. More than 40 people were sent to the hospital as a result of the crash.

The trolley operator was fired and the Department of Utilities has banned drivers of trains, streetcars and buses from carrying cell phones and other electronic devices while working.

In September of 2008, a train operator was also sending a text message right before his train crashed. The accident claimed the lives of 25 people. 

The accident led to an overhaul of California safety regulations.

McCartt told CBN News exactly what happens when a distracted driver is behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

"Your reaction time is slowed. Another is you tend not to stay in your lane as well. And another is you miss things," she said. "You may not see a traffic sign, you may not see a traffic light, you might not see the car stopped in front of you. You're engaged in a conversation and not paying attention to the driving situation. That's how people get into trouble."

Several states have outlawed or limited driving while texting.

In Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia, text messaging is banned for all drivers.

In Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia school bus drivers are banned from text messaging.

In North Carolina and Texas, drivers under 21-years-old are also banned from texting.

But McCartt says making texting behind the wheel illegal may not be enough. She suggests doing so may stop older people from doing it, but warns that more needs to be done to make the practice less appealing to younger drivers.

"I think that when parents talk to their teens about the dangers of passengers being in the vehicles, driving at night, not drinking, making sure they wear their seatbelt, they need to add to that list that teens shouldn't be talking on the phone, shouldn't be texting," she said.

*Originally Published June 5, 2009

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.