Take out your cell phone or smart phone. Read the last text message you sent or received aloud. Would reading or responding to that text message from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle be worth the risk of getting into a car accident…or worse?
Every time you read a text while driving your eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds. If you are driving 55 miles per hour, that means that your car travels the length of a football field while you are driving virtually blind. It takes even longer to compose the standard text message, putting yourself and others at even greater risk of injury or death.
According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report, people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in some type of safety critical event as compared to those who don’t text while driving.
With a 10-fold increase in text messaging over the last three years, it is not surprising that “texting while driving” crashes have increased as well. Nationally, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, more than 3,000 people were killed and an additional 416,000 were injured due to distracted driving, which includes texting while driving.
Texting and distracted driving is now one of the greatest dangers facing drivers on our roads, and is as dangerous, if not more so, than driving drunk.
Although we usually think of teens as being more likely to text, distracted driving caused by texting is not a problem limited to young drivers. Adult drivers are just as likely to engage in texting while driving.
The statistics are staggering. According to a recent study commissioned by AT&T, while young drivers know the dangers of texting while driving, 43 percent of them still admit to sending texts while they drive, and they say that adults set a bad example by texting and driving, too.
The survey also showed that 75 percent of teens surveyed say that texting while driving is “common” among their friends; almost all teens (89 percent) expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less; and 77 percent of teens report seeing their parents text while driving.
Yet, every day, even as adults, we quickly forget those dangers as soon as we hear that tell-tale ring on our phones letting us know we have a new text message. Despite traffic fines and increased education, the public continues to partake in dangerous driving behavior by using cell phones and smart phones while behind the wheel.
In 2009 the General Assembly passed the texting while driving ban in Rhode Island. Since then, local and state police have issued over 575 tickets to individuals who are caught driving while texting.
The Office of Attorney General and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation are teaming up with AT&T on “It Can Wait,” a public service campaign aimed at educating high school-aged drivers about the life-changing consequences that texting while driving can have.
Throughout the year, it is our goal to bring the “It Can Wait” campaign to high schools across Rhode Island where students will hear true stories about the effects of texting while driving. The campaign includes a poignant documentary featuring real people whose lives were forever changed by texting while driving; a sober reminder of the potential repercussions of taking our hands off the wheel even for just a few moments.
As part of this campaign, we are asking teen drivers, teachers and parents to take the “It Can Wait” pledge, promising to not text and drive. The campaign kicked off this fall, and we brought it to East Providence High School on December 17, 2012.
Take out your cell phone again and read the last message you received. Will it kill you not to read or instantly return that message? No. Will it kill you or someone else if you do? Maybe.
Whether turning the phone off, taking a pledge, or just making it a personal practice, the next time you think about sending or answering a text while operating a vehicle please remember – it can wait. The reality is that no message is so urgent that it is worth diverting attention from the road and risking lives in the process.
Take the “It Can Wait” pledge, and please share it with your friends, family, or everyone else you care about.
For more information on the “It Can Wait” campaign, please visit www.riag.ri.gov or www.itcanwait.com.
— By Peter F. Kilmartin and Michael Lewis
Peter F. Kilmartin is the Rhode Island Attorney General and Michael Lewis is the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.