On July 1, 2013 Virginia will join other states in implementing a no texting while driving law. Currently over 40 states have some sort of limitations involving texting while driving. And, many have legislation about using cell phones while driving, including Virginia.
In 2010 Congress established April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month—something we take seriously at the MichieHamlett Law Firm.
The National Safety Council estimates that more than 25% of all car crashes involve cell phone use. Texting or talking on the phone, even hands free, creates an element of ‘cognitive distraction’, which leading to a diminished ability to fully focus on our driving and the other cars around us. Driving while talking on a cell phone, even hands free, is the equivalent (cognitively) of driving under the influence of alcohol with a BAC of .08 – the legal limit in Virginia and most states.
In 2010, approximately 33,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes. And some of these people died at the hands of a distracted driver—a person who was texting or chatting on the phone or in some other way not paying attention while he or she was driving. Estimates are that over 330 people die every month in the United States from distracted driving, over 4,000 per year.
The average text takes about 4.6 seconds; in that amount of time, at 55 mph, your car travels more than the length of a football field. If you were asked to drive that distance with your eyes closed, would you do it? Most rationale people would not, but that is effectively what happens when a driver texts while driving.
The interesting thing is that we’re not just talking about teens. AT&T recently conducted a survey in which almost 49% of adults admitted to sending a text while driving a vehicle. That’s compared with 43% of teens surveyed a year ago. And, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to get into an accident than other drivers. Adult drivers may actually be worse than teens. The next time you stop at a stop light, look around you and see how many folks are either texting or talking on their phone.
The message about the dangers of distracted driving is not new but the problem appears to have grown. "Despite the broad awareness about the dangers of texting behind the wheel, the survey suggests that the problem is getting worse. Six out of every 10 respondents said that, three years ago, they never texted while driving. And 40% of the people who admit to texting in the survey say it's a habit, not just an occasional slip-up."
There are a number of things you can do to improve the safety of your driving:
- You can take the pledge (http://www.mhlrt.com/xthatxt/take_the_pledge.pdf) to stop texting.
- Talk to your teens about cell phone use while behind the wheel. Ask them to sign a contract with you (http://www.mhlrt.com/xthatxt/parent-teen_driving%20contract.pdf)
- Learn about your state’s legislation at: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html (regarding texting and cell phone use)00.
- Educate yourself to become a safer driver. See the National Safety Council website for ideas. www.nsc.org
- Make a commitment to be pay complete attentionwhen you get into the car. Focus on the road. Put your cell phone away and don’t answer it when it rings. If you have to take a call, pull over to a safe spot, then pick up the phone.
- Drive like it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do – your number one goal behind the wheel is to get from point A to point B safely. Period. Today and every day.
- Have your teen keep his/her cell phone in a backpack, the trunk or other safe (inaccessible) place while driving.
The adults who responded to the AT&T survey admitted that they knew texting was a dangerous thing to do behind the wheel. But did it nonetheless. This is because we all believe we are safe drivers who can multi-task behind the wheel, and it is all of the other people who have the problem. We are playing Russian Roulette; pull the trigger enough times, and you will be the victim.
We have the power to change our behavior. We can be proactive about keeping our loved ones, strangers, and ourselves safe when we’re driving a motor vehicle.
Don’t you want the person in the car right next to you to put down his cell phone and pay attention? Let’s all make a commitment to drive safely in recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It only takes a split second to change your life, or lose it.