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Texting, phoning while driving — can we stop it?

May 15, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Every driver is aware of the dangers of texting and/or talking on a cell phone while driving - it has received media attention unlike any other dangerous driving actions, including driving while intoxicated.

We've heard about multiple fatalities where the driver was texting only seconds before crashing. We've even heard about the commuter train engineer that was texting just before crashing into another train. In spite of all this publicity, we still persist in these risky behaviors, even when prohibited by law.

Are drivers really doing as much electronic multitasking as it seems? The answer is yes, no matter traffic conditions or weather, a new survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicates. Not surprising is that younger drivers spend more time texting and phoning than do older drivers. The survey found that drivers younger than 30 spent 16 percent of their driving time on the phone compared with seven percent for drivers 30 to 59 and even less for drivers over 60.

Results from the IIHS study show that 13 percent of drivers talk on cell phones daily in states with hand-held bans (like New York) and 22 percent talk daily in states without any ban.The percentage of drivers 18 to 24 years old that text is a whopping 45 percent in states with a texting ban (again like New York), and an even higher 48 percent in states without texting bans. The percent of drivers' texting falls off with age, running only 12 percent for drivers 30 to 59, the same percentage for states with or without texting bans.

Another interesting statistic that was revealed in the IIHS survey is that business calls aren't taking up most of the air time - it's more just connecting with friends. That is supported by the fact that there is more phoning on weekday afternoons and evenings, the times right after school or after work, as people want to connect with friends and family once they're in their car.

So, how do we address these dangerous driving distractions? Apparently just passing laws banning these actions does not have a major effect. Even though talking on a cell phone is equivalent to driving while drunk (0.08 BAC), and texting while driving is even more dangerous, there are unresolved legal issues with treating texting like drunk driving. Drunk drivers can be identified by using a breathalyzer, but there's no immediate test for texting while driving. But, tougher laws may be an answer.

Utah recently passed a law with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison if a driver causes a fatality while texting. This law passed after a crash that killed two people in a car that was clipped by a 19-year old driver that had texted with his girlfriend 11 times in the 30 minutes prior to the crash, including a text message only one minute before he called 911 to report the crash that he caused. Now, in Utah, a driver caught texting faces up to three months jail time and up to a $750 fine, and if they cause injury or death, the offense can grow to a felony with up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.

Alaska is another state where, if a driver causes a fatal accident when a TV video monitor or computer is on, including phones used for texting, a driver can be punished with up to 20 years in prison.

Changing driver or societal attitudes may be another solution. It has had some success with DWI. Watch for next week's article which will review the NYS laws on cell phones and texting.

For more traffic safety information, go to


Dave Werner can be reached at



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