Friday, September 13, 2013
Talking on a cellphone pressed up against a driver’s ear is unwise.
But texting while driving is downright stupid. Studies show that texting while driving increases the risk of crash dramatically, as dangerous as driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit in Washington state.
Yet, despite the obvious danger — and the fact the behavior is illegal — the practice of texting while driving is as pervasive as yapping on a cellphone.
A University of Washington study released this week found more than 8 percent of drivers in Washington state are distracted by electronic devices. Researchers observing 7,800 motorists at intersections in six counties found that nearly half of drivers using electronic devices were texting.
A federal study released in April found similar numbers. About 70 percent of adult U.S. drivers admitted they talk on the cellphone while driving and about half said they had texted while driving.
“The risk of crash with texting is so high. It really makes you impaired,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, the UW study’s principal investigator and director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.
The findings, Ebel added, suggest distracted driving is more common than previously thought. She said she was surprised by how many drivers were taking their eyes off the road to text.
The results of the study are surprising and very scary. Texting while driving defies reason.
Talking on a cellphone while driving (also illegal and not recommended) is not nearly as dangerous as texting. When talking on a phone, drivers’ eyes generally remain on the road, although their minds might wander.
Texting is at a whole different level. Texting drivers consistently take their eyes off the road, are not checking rear view mirrors or blind spots and are paying almost no attention to traffic. Drivers are putting themselves in real danger as well as those on the road with them. Pedestrians and bicycle riders also have reason to fear texters.
Those who are cited by law enforcement for talking on a cellphone or texting while driving are fined $124. Clearly that is not enough to curb the problem.
The Legislature needs to get serious, which will take a lot of political backbone since a lot of people (voters) are now ignoring the law.
Penalties for texting and talking on a cellphone — regardless of age — should be a lot tougher for repeat offenders, perhaps equal to a DUI fine.
It has to be made clear that using electronic devices, particularly to text, is dangerous behavior and will not be tolerated.