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A dangerous distraction: text messaging behind the wheel



Published: Wed, August 8, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.

Forty-six percent of drivers 16 to 17 admit to texting while driving.

By ANDREW GAUG

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

A new trend in technology has added to the numerous distractions when driving a car for most anyone with a cell phone: text messaging.

A survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance this year found one in five people say they text message while driving.

As many people would suspect, it’s a generational thing.

According to Nationwide, 37 percent of people surveyed from age 18 to 27 said they text message while driving, while only 14 percent of those 28 to 44 and 2 percent of those age 45 to 60 admitted to doing the same.

Text messaging while behind the wheel has become more widespread among teens under 18: 46 percent of drivers between the ages of 16 and 17 said they do so, according to a survey conducted by AAA.

Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s associate vice president of safety, said the generational gap may be due to advancements in technology in the past 20 years.

Distracting technology

“I think the thing we have to look at is that the younger generation has grown up using technology,” he said. “As that generation learns to drive, it’s going to be natural for them to continue those behaviors.”

Lori Cook, safety programs manager for the AAA East Central/Ohio region, said that as generations grow up, so will the technology. “The younger the driver, the more distractions,” she said.

Larry Kingston, executive director of the National Safety Council, Northern Ohio Chapter in Youngstown, said the lack of experience behind the wheel for younger generations puts them at greater risk.

“Young, inexperienced drivers don’t realize the inherent danger,” he said.

Regardless of age, doing anything outside of focusing on the road, including text messaging, is dangerous.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 80 percent of accidents in the U.S. are caused by distracted drivers. This could lead to a considerable number of the 43,000 fatalities caused yearly in the U.S. by traffic accidents, Nationwide said.

Differing opinions

Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes couldn’t say whether text messaging while driving causes car accidents. But, he said, it complicates the task of properly operating a vehicle.

“It’s difficult even dialing a number,” he said, “It’s impossible to navigate or negotiate driving while texting.”

Opinions from different generations vary on text messaging when driving.

“I think it’s distracting,” Karen Hickman, 62, of Newton Falls, said. People “don’t pay attention to what they’re doing.”

Younger generations don’t see it as a big deal as long as they can handle it.

“I think it’s dangerous, definitely,” said Dominic Centofanti, 27, of Struthers. Centofanti acknowledged he does text message while he’s driving, but is able to do it while keeping an eye on the road.

“I could make a meal while driving,” he said, jokingly. “Some people can handle texting, some people can’t.”

Leading to accidents

Lindsey Golubic, 20, of Canfield, said texting while driving is fine as long as it’s exercised with caution.

“I do it and haven’t had any problems. I usually do it at stop signs or stop lights,” she said.

Corinne Hickman, 37, of New Springfield, said she speaks from experience, as she knows two people who have gotten into car accidents because they were distracted by text messages on their cell phone.

“They’ve texted me, saying, ‘Sorry I can’t talk right now, I just got into a crash,’” she said.

Despite being a distraction, regulating text messaging while driving is something that is left to the person doing it.

Ohio has no statewide ban on cell phones while driving, according to the International Institute for Highway Safety. Some cities, however, such as North Olmsted and Walton Hills, have enacted restrictions on cell phone use while driving.

Hughes said there’s not much police officers can do to stop people from texting while driving.

“If it affects their driving, [the police] will take action on that,” he said, “But if the text messaging doesn’t affect their driving, they can’t really do anything.”

Suggesting laws

People such as Jeannie Wells, a driving instructor at A-1 Driving School in Austintown, thinks laws need to be enacted to stop drivers on cell phones.

“I think there should be a violation not only for teens but adults as well,” she said, “A fine. Who knows, maybe even a license suspension.”

Nationwide’s Windsor also sees laws banning handheld devices as a potential solution.

“When you think of all the new devices that are coming on board and what their capabilities are — clearly all that takes away from [the user’s] focus on the road,” he said.

Legislation may not be the key to stopping people from texting while driving, said Cook.

“I’m not sure if we need people to pass laws against these things,” she said. “I think we just need to use common sense.”

Judy Galino, of Newton Falls, said she hopes something will be done to prevent it.

“It’s terrible, it’s distracting,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not while driving.”

agaug@vindy.com


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