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Text messaging, also known as Short Message Service (or SMS), is on the rise. Texting has risen from 110.4 billion messages per month in 2008 to approximately 200 billion SMS transmissions per month by the end of 2012. Texting has become increasingly popular over the last five years due to cybertechnology advances and, of course, the development of the next generation of 5 gigabyte Androids and iPhones.

In addition, texting has become increasingly deadly. Walking "texters" have become driving "texters." If you have a teenage child with an Android, when's the last time you had a conversation with them that was not interrupted by their pecking a text reply to a SMS while you are trying to get their undivided attention? Texting is now more than just a fad. It's an obsession—a deadly obsession. The video (above) is a dramatization of a real texting tragedy that occurred in Tredegar, England. The PSA video was put together by the Gwint Police Department took show people who drive and text the folly of their fun. What you watched (above) is a depiction of a real event. In the real life event, the texting driver—Kathy—survived. But the accident she caused killed four people. Both of her companions in her car were killed. So were the husband and wife in the other car she hit head-on.

Remember the LA train driver who ran a signal while he was texting? His texting killed 25 people and injured more than 100 others. In San Antonio, Texas, a texting bus driver failed to notice that the traffic in front of him had stopped and caused a multi-vehicle accident. Fortunately, in that incident, no one died. The risk of collisions jumps 23 times when you text while driving. Texting while driving has become a global problem, crossing every age group.

After successfully passing her driver's test and securing a driver's license, 16-year old Savannah Nash of Harrisonsville, Missouri asked permission to drive to a nearby grocery store to pick up a few things her mother needed for dinner. Savannah, excited over her first solo drive behind the wheel of the family vehicle, was writing a lengthy text to a friend describing her experience, when she crashed into a semitrailer on May 15, 2013 and died at the scene. She had her driver's license one day. She celebrated her 16th birthday a week earlier.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driver distraction causes at least 18% of all fatal vehicle crashes. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute warns that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. Eleven percent of drivers 18 to 20 who were involved in an automobile accident and survived admitted they were sending or receiving text messages when they crashed. Distracted drivers endanger not only their own lives, and the lives of the passengers in their vehicles, but they endanger the lives of every driver and passenger on the roadway around them.

Washington State was the first state, in 2007, to enact a texting ban in vehicles. Today, 42 States including Puerto Rica, Guam and the US Virgin Islands has banned text messaging for all drivers in all types of vehicles. Nineteen States have laws which specifically prohibit school bus drivers from talking on cell phones, while three of them have stiff penalties for bus drivers who text while driving. (The only States, at this time, without texting bans are: Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.) But, what you have today, you likely will not have very soon. Texting while driving is just a hair safer than taking a nap while driving.

The first texting offense fines average from $150.00 to $200.00. Second offense fines average from $250.00 to $500.00—with the risk of driver's license suspension. Currently New York is the only State with a mandatory driver's license suspension for first time texting offenses. Texting, in New York carries the same "distracted driving" penalty as excessive speeding and reckless driving. In New York, more people are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers than those involving alcohol-related driving. According to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, there has been a 143% increase in cell-phone related crashes in New York State, thus the law to strengthen the enforcement of texting-while-driving violations. Since the law passed, there has been a 234% increase in the number of tickets issued for texting while driving. Additionally, the penalty for using any handheld devise while driving in New York puts three points on your license. Need to answer your cell phone, or make a cell phone call? Pull off the road. Stop your vehicle and make or take your call. The life you save may be yours—or it could be mine.

In June, 2012 18-year old Aaron Deveau was convicted for vehicular homicide for texting behind the wheel and causing an accident that resulted in the death of another person. He was sentenced to one year in a Massachusetts prison. His driver's license was suspended for 15 years. A California woman was sentenced to 120 days in jail and an extended home confinement for killing a two-year old girl in a crosswalk as she drove while texting. In Missouri, another woman pleaded guilty to second degree involuntary manslaughter for killing a grandmother as she answered a text message while driving.

Within the next year or two, expect to see "distracted driver" laws on the books in every State—with very severe penalties. But it will take a while for the severity of the crime to catch up with the penalties meted. In 2004 in a "distracted driver" case, Erwin Peterson, Jr., an Alaskan big rig driver was watched a DVD while driving. Distracted, his semi smashed into a car killing the two occupants. Peterson was charged with second degree murder. The jury acquitted him not because they didn't think he was guilty of killing the couple, but rather, because they believed the prosecution was overzealous in charging him. Since third degree murder was not on the table as an option, the jury felt obligated to find him not guilty. Peterson never had to pay for his crime.

Former Prosecutor Beth Karas noted that the prosecution message is that people had better think twice before they pick up their cell phones to text while in traffic. She added that "...the law has to catch up to drunk drivers. The [drunk driving] laws were not that strict until around 20 years ago. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a powerful lobby, and they really had a significant effect on...lowering the legal limit from .1 to .08 in most places, and requiring mandatory prison for repeat offenders. I think you will see that with the use of mobile devises and driving. You will see it escalate, and you will see the law evolve over time."

Hands and eyes free is going to be the rule of the road. Get used to it...quickly.

 

Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved
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