Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. If you are obeying the speed limit and traveling at 55 miles per hour, that means you covered the distance of a football field. 60% of drivers use cell phones while they drive and 39% of teenagers say that they have been involved in near-crash scenarios because of their own or someone else’s distracted driving. It is well known that texting while driving is dangerous and reckless; however, 78% of teens and young adults reported that they have read a text while driving.
In September of 2010, Governor Deval Patrick signed a new law that made it illegal to text and drive. This law was signed on the heels of a study that found texting while driving makes an individual twenty times more likely to be in an accident. The law aims to raise awareness and limit distraction-related accidents. In addition to prohibiting texting and driving, the new law makes it illegal to “use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.” The new law does allow phone calls as long as one hand remains on the steering wheel while making the call.
Perhaps penalties for texting and driving are not high enough to discourage drivers from doing it. In Massachusetts, an individual caught texting and driving will face a first offense fine of $100 if they are under 18, and $35 if they are over 18. For an offense as dangerous as texting and driving the consequences are comparatively low.
Sarah Gauss, a second year student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University, scoffed at the $35 fine. She said, “$35 is nothing, honestly I think it should be higher if it is going to be effective.” Analisa Fueller, a second year pharm-D student, laughed at the fine. She explained, “$35 is not scary. The fine for drinking and driving is like $1000 and that is scary.” A fine might not be scary, but shouldn’t the statistics be? In 2011, at least 23 % of car accidents involved cellphones – that is 1.3 million collisions.
In Massachusetts, a first-offense drunk driving conviction is punishable with a license suspension of a year, up to 30 months of jail time, and fines ranging from 500-5,000 dollars. In the Unites States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980 and awareness was raised. The same type of awareness and and attention needs to be devoted to texting and driving.
A 2007 study conducted by AAA and Seventeen magazine found that 61% of teenagers will admit to risky driving habits. Of that 61%, 46% admit to texting and driving. Teenagers are the most at-risk age group for collisions. Is it the lack of world experience that allows them text and drive without a second thought? Are they just too young to understand the severity of their actions, or do they just not care?
In order to reduce the foolish practice of texting and driving, the public needs to be more aware of the consequences. Texting and driving, while recently having recently gained more attention, should receive the same focus as drinking and driving. Penalties and consequences should also be higher to have the same “fear effect” as the drinking and driving consequences.
No text is worth it. There are apps that are available that will read your text messages out loud and respond to them. Other apps on the market block all texts from coming in when you are driving to reduce temptation. To resist the urge, place your phone on silent in your trunk–out of sight, out of mind.
Written by: Nicole Vee [Altman & Altman staff]