It’s often said that one word could change your life. In today’s society, that saying still holds true, because one word in one text message could change someone’s life. The three or four seconds it may take the average teen to send a text could leave that young person seriously injured, if not dead.
Many drivers on the road endanger themselves and the other drivers around them by taking their eyes off the road for just a few seconds to send a text message.
Kettering takes a stand
The City of Kettering recently tried to put an end to drivers pulling out their cell phones and sending texts while they’re on the road with a new ordinance that makes it illegal to text and drive.
The ordinance, which can be found on Kettering’s website, states that “distracted driving is a significant cause of automobile accidents resulting in personal injury and loss of life; and … texting while driving causes drivers to completely switch their attention from driving to focus on texting.”
The ordinance makes texting while driving a primary offence and a misdemeanor, for which culprits could have to pay $150.
Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 337 into law on Jan. 27, 2012, establishing texting-while-driving as a major traffic infraction for commercial drivers. But for most parts of the state, non-commercial drivers get no penalty for texting behind the wheel.
Currently, Ohio House Bill 99, which would ban texting while driving statewide (and put Ohio among the 35 states who have already outlawed it) is stalled in the Ohio Senate after passing a House vote last June. Kettering Mayor Don Patterson didn’t feel the state legislation was moving fast enough through the Senate, so Kettering took action by passing its own ordinance modeled after HB 99. “We feel that the time to start educating our residents about the dangers of texting is now,” he said. “We can’t wait.”
For Patterson, the law is “less about enforcement and more about changing behavior.” Though the law went into effect on Jan. 3, it includes a six-month grace period for all drivers, so that the city can work on its education campaign, which includes public service announcements (like the one included with this story that features Fairmont junior Rachel Herman and senior Monica Wagner).
Come July 1, drivers who text behind the wheel will be cited with minor misdemeanors in court. Officer Ron Roberts of the Kettering Police Department says officers have issued several verbal warnings (he estimates fewer than 10 as of late January) to drivers.
“This is mainly an education period,” said Roberts. “We want people to know that we just want them to drive safely. If you have to text, tweet or do Facebook, pull into a parking lot. There are plenty of them.”
As for getting the word out to students, the city is starting young. Roberts says they will do programs similar D.A.R.E. that teach elementary students about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. They hope that the message that “texting while driving is wrong” will stick for those children when they become drivers.
News of the new law has been spreading by word of mouth, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter (the ones drivers can no longer use while driving).
Reactions to the law
Fairmont senior Scott Thompson is in favor of the new ban, but he doesn’t think it will change much. “If the cops catch anyone texting and driving, they deserve a ticket,” said Thompson. “And I think it may scare a few people away from texting while driving, but honestly I doubt that it will stop most teenagers. They’ll just try to look out for cops.”
Senior Jennifer McGarry has a similar opinion about the law. “I support the new law. I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think it’ll change too much. It’s so easy for people to get away with texting while driving.”
D&D Driving School instructor Robert White feels this ordinance will be useful only after the fact. “The police won’t be able to prove anything until after the crash has already happened,” he said. “Realistically, ordinances like this aren’t very enforceable. They’re trying to raise the issue of awareness. Once awareness is high enough, the real laws will follow.” White predicts states will pass even tougher laws in the future, similar to how states approached the issue of driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
White thinks the real problem with texting while driving is the social acceptance of the practice among many in society. “Unfortunately, I think that it’s going to take a few more people dying before things change socially.”
Enforcing the unenforceable?
Kettering police officers can ask for the driver’s permission to see their phone if they suspect the person of texting while driving. Roberts admits there are people who will be dishonest to the police if they are stopped and questioned about a potential TWD, but he said officers look for other clues that might denote such behavior.
“We get a lot of reports of TWD that resemble OVIs,” said Roberts. “We’re looking for people at a green light with their heads down who are obviously sending or reading a message. We’re looking for someone who’s in and out of their lane.” In many cases, a person might be cited for weaving or failure to maintain the lane of travel and get an additional charge for texting while driving.
Types of distracted driving
D&D’s White feels that all distracted driving is dangerous, but texting tops the charts. “When you’re dealing with distracted driving, you’re dealing with three different types of distraction,” he said.
The first type of distracted driving is visual. “Visual distractions are nothing more than looking up the road and seeing something that catches your eye,” said White. Visual distractions can be people, trees, signage or anything else that requires you to move your eye from the roadway and focus on something else even for a second.
Physical distractions are the next type of distracted driving. “Physical distractions are when you take your hand off the steering wheel and you’re eating or drinking,” said White.
Cognitive distractions are the last type of distracted driving. “Cognitive distractions are when you let your mind wander. Instead of thinking about driving and what you need to do to stay safe, you’re thinking about what you’re going to do at the mall that night, or a fight you had with a friend earlier that day,” said White.
Texting while driving combines all three of these distractions. When a person is sending a text message while driving, he has his eyes on the phone instead of the road, he has one hand off the wheel to send the message, and his mind is focused on the text instead of staying safe. “What this means is that when you’re texting and driving, you have no control over your car whatsoever,” said White.
How much is that text worth?
Study after study has made the dangers of texting while driving clear.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted a study on TWD and found it causes an alarming 400 percent increase in the amount of time a driver’s eyes are off the road. According to the VTTI, in the average 4.6 seconds it takes to send a text message, a car traveling at 55 mph would have gone the entire length of a football field … without the driver looking at the road.
A 2009 study done by psychology professor Marcel Just from Carnegie Mellon found that using a cell phone while driving reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. That leaves only 63 percent of brain activity focused solely on driving. The study also found that while just listening to a phone call while driving, drivers can commit errors as if they were under the influence of alcohol.
“Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel, they also have to keep their brains on the road,” said Just.
A similar study conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions in 2007 concluded that texting while driving was becoming as dangerous as drinking and driving when it comes to teenagers’ driving abilities.
Many eyes not on the road
In 2007, the American Automobile Association found that of 1,000 teens they surveyed, 46 percent text and drive and 51 percent talk on their phones while driving.
However, the most astounding statistic from the AAA is that cell phone use accounts for 2,600 vehicle fatalities and 300,000 collisions annually.
D&D’s White is familiar with all the statistics, but he also sees the faces of those who could suffer the consequences.
“When I look at 20 students in my classroom, only about three of them raise their hands and say that they’ve experienced a crash,” the driving instructor said. “That means 17 kids don’t know the pain and devastation that follows a car crash first-hand, and unfortunately they’re going to find out. I think that’s a lot of the reason why so many teens are willing to put themselves in harm’s way, because they just don’t know.”