Texting While Driving is Taking a Toll

In San Antonio, a public bus driver sending text messages on his phone plowed the 12-ton vehicle he was driving into the back of a stopped SUV. After an accident injuring dozens of people, a Boston trolley driver admitted he was texting his girlfriend when the crash occurred. In California, a commuter train engineer was sending and receiving text messages moments before a head-on collision with a freight train killed 25 people and injured 135 more.

As tragedies involving public transit and text-messaging drivers add up, so does the research indicating that more and more people are using their cell phones to send text messages while driving.

New research shows 26 percent of cell phone users nationwide send text messages while they’re behind the wheel (28 percent of Texas drivers admit to using their cell phones while driving). Almost 60 percent of teenage drivers admit to driving while texting (DWT) and 49 percent of those between 20 and 29 admit to DWT.

The Texas legislature is considering a bill that would make DWT illegal, and another that would prohibit Texas teenagers from driving while talking on a cell phone. Another proposal would ban all drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

The only current Texas law regarding cell phone usage prevents teenagers from using the mobile devices in the first six months after acquiring their drivers’ licenses.

The Texas Department of Transportation says that over the past two years, there have been more than 6,500 crashes caused by drivers distracted while using their cell phones. Of those crashes, 59 have involved fatalities.

Representative Jose Menendez, San Antonio, has introduced House Bill 55, legislation banning cell phone use by drivers in school zones.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced his support for a nationwide ban on DWT after the dramatic video of the San Antonio bus driver aired on TV news programs around the country. In the video, the driver is clearly seen paying attention to his phone rather than the road. He slammed his bus into the rear end of a SUV in stopped traffic, causing neck and back injuries to the driver of that vehicle.

Support for a ban on texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is strong. According to the 2009 Vlingo Report survey of nearly 5,000 people, more than 83 percent say DWT should be illegal. Only 7 percent oppose outlawing it, while 10 percent are undecided.

National Safety Council President & CEO Janet Froetscher says cell phone use while driving is one of the country’s most urgent traffic safety issues. The NSC is calling for a total ban on the activity nationwide, based on scientific estimates that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of all crashes, or 636,000 crashes annually. In those crashes, the NSC says there are 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths.

“Our nation has reached a point where we estimate more than 100 million people are engaging in this dangerous behavior daily,” Froetscher said in a statement. “Hands-free devices do not make cell phones any safer. Several studies indicate that the principle risk is the cognitive distraction. Studies also show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four-times greater crash risk.”

Six states ban driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington, plus the District of Columbia. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 12 states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.