When DHS students turn 16, there is one thing that almost everyone is excited about: finally getting their driver’s license. With this small piece of plastic comes newfound responsibilities, and the teen is expected to follow all of the rules, or else be at risk of a ticket or injury. One of the most commonly broken rules is that which prohibits texting while driving.
Legislation 257.602b states that drivers may not “read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state.” The law excludes texting to report a traffic accident, medical emergency, serious road hazard, report personal safety concerns, report potential perpetration of a criminal act, or carry out official duties as a law enforcement official, fire department, or emergency vehicle. In spite of this law, it is reported that 58 percent of high school seniors and 43 percent of juniors in the United States reported texting or emailing during the month prior to a survey done by Teen Drivers Source.com. So the question remains, why do students still text and drive, despite the dangers and law?
According to a Safety Web Inc. study, 41 percent of teens said that they text because “it only takes a split second”, 35 percent said that “they don’t think they’ll get hurt”, 22 percent said that “it makes driving less boring”, and 21 percent said that “they are used to being connected to people at all times”.
Brendan McNamara, a senior at DHS, texts while driving frequently, but not every time he gets into the car.
“If a person is asking me an important question, then I’ll take the time to answer it, even if I’m driving,” McNamara said.
Texting while driving can potentially be very dangerous. Stop Texts Stop Wrecks.com stated that the average time that a driver takes his or her eyes off the road to text is five seconds. When traveling at 55 mph, the distance covered is the length of a football field. For people under the age of 20, 19 percent of crashes that caused deaths were linked to the use of cell phones.
“I haven’t really had any close calls,” McNamara said. “But, sometimes I’ll be mid text and look up and realize, oh crap, if that person had done one thing differently, then that would have ended very badly for me.”
Senior Lucas Bourelle consistently has other distractions while driving, which could potentially cause harm.
“I don’t always text when I’m driving,” Bourelle said. “But I’m almost always on my phone, whether it’s texting, changing music, or looking up directions.”
Bourelle believes, however, that he’s attentive and aware enough to prevent accidents from occurring.
“I guess I could have an accident, but I don’t think it will happen,” Bourelle said. “I’m careful enough to the point that nothing will happen. I’m a good driver, and I don’t stay on my phone for long periods of time, basically only a second or two, at most.”
Bourelle admits that he doesn’t really know why he texts while driving.
According to Stop Texts Stop Wrecks.com, “A driver that is texting is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver.” This makes up the 18 percent of fatalities in crashes due to distracted driving due to cell phone use. In 2009, 453,474 people in the U.S. were injured or killed due to distracted driving. The website also said that “using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s handheld or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent”. This means that texting and driving can be potentially as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, and can mean getting into fatal car crashes. According to MADD.com, 27 people in American each day die as a result of drunk driving crashes. Texting has a very similar effect.
Despite the risks and the law, little is being done to enforce the law.
“Not very many people a month get caught, if any,” Officer Jai Mahabir said. “It’s all about the discretion of the officer.”
According to Mahabir, it is difficult to determine if a driver is specifically texting, due to different actions being available on many phones. Since there is no law prohibiting changing the music on an iPhone, or scrolling through contacts in preparation of calling a friend, a driver cannot get a ticket for those behaviors, unless it is impacting their driving habits, which would fall under “distracted driving”.
“The [texting while driving] law was set up by insurance companies to stop underage people texting while driving and causing crashes,” Mahabir said. “It would be pretty hard to prove it if you’re just driving. How do you know the difference between that and say, changing the radio station? But if you cause a crash, and there are people witnessing that you were texting, then that’s what the insurance companies go on. Basically, if you were on your phone and you get in a car crash, that’s where the law comes into play.”
It is not only police officers that have to see a driver texting.
“When I used to work the road, we used to get calls from other drivers, and 911 would dispatch us to drivers on the road who were possibly under the influence of alcohol,” Mahabir said. “We’d get there and they would be texting.”
There have been movements, however, to stop texting while driving. The All State foundation has started a trend to get teens to encourage each other to stop texting while driving, called Keepthedrive.com.
A National Teen Driver Survey done in 2006 concluded that over 90 percent of teen drivers don’t drink and drive, but 90 percent also say that they have seen passengers distracting the driver or the driver is using a cell phone.
“I think that there is movement [for the law], because we all know that people still text and drive, it’s just new and they don’t quite have the stats,” Mahabir said. “Drunk driving, back in the day, took a progression to finally put in the different degrees of it, so I’m guessing that this law is new, and I’m guessing that it will evolve.”
As of 2012, 39 states have enacted a texting ban for all drivers, with South Carolina, Florida, South Dakota, Montana, and Hawaii having partial bans. Only Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico have no ban on texting while driving.
While texting and driving is very much present in today’s society, the decision is in the hands of driver’s alone across the nation.
“If students get their cellphones taken away, they cry,” Mahabir said. “It’s just their generation. They have to be in constant contact, it’s how they socialize. And like I said, some people would rather go to jail than get their cell phone taken away. They’re that dependent. It’s amazing. They feel like they have lost touch, and they’re in a form of isolation. What did we do like 10 years ago? We didn’t have cell phones.”