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Texting and driving: Dangerous at any speed

A recipe for disaster.
A recipe for disaster.
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Last March, Lower Pottsgrove 18-year-old Justin Matthew Jackson was arrested for allegedly texting while and being under the influence of marijuana when he struck and killed jogger Merinda Thompson. And with that senseless act, he became the first person in Pennsylvania to be prosecuted under the commonwealth’s texting while driving ban that went into effect on March 8, 2012 and which ….

  1. Prohibits the use of any Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read, or write a text message while driving.
  2. Makes texting on any IWCD while behind-the-wheel a primary offense; in other words, a police officer can pull you over and either arrest you or impose a fine. The same applies to using the Internet, emailing, and other messaging.
  3. Institutes a fine of $50 if convicted, plus court costs and other fees.
  4. “Supersedes and pre-empts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.”
  5. Carries no points and is not placed on a non-commercial driver’s record.

Nevertheless, and despite knowing better, folks continue to text and drive, and we in Montgomery County are no exception. In fact, we now rank second in the commonwealth with 111 citations served between March 8, 2012 and March 5, 2013. That figure was “bested” only by Philadelphia’s 243; third ranked Allegheny County had 110.

As for Pennsylvania as a whole, PennDOT reports that in 2012 there were 14,633 distracted driving crashes, 53 of them resulting in fatalities. 59 such deaths were reported in 2011. Moreover, almost 11% of crashes over the last five years have involved distracted driving—and 300 deaths.

Nationally, 3,328 people died that same year in distracted driving crashes; 421,000 were injured. Plus, 11% of all drivers under 20 involved in fatal crashes were reportedly distracted at the time.

The lesson: be forewarned and on guard. Apparently, it takes 4.6 seconds to send or read a typical text message, and that’s long enough, at 55 mph, to travel the length of an entire football field. Then there are these other breath-taking statistics:

  • 15- to 19-year-olds make up the largest group of distracted drivers.
  • According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, texting while driving kills 11 teens each day.
  • In an AAA polls, 94% of teens said texting and driving is dangerous, but 35% admitted doing it.
  • 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were reportedly distracted by their cell phones.
  • 46% of drivers under 18 admit to texting while driving.

As for us role modeling adults? 15% of young drivers say they’ve seen their parents text and drive, with 27% of adults admit sending and/or receiving text messages while behind the wheel.

And for just such reasons, the Montgomery County Health Department, county commissioners, district attorney’s office, PennDOT, and the Abington Police Department have come together to sponsor the Distracted Driving Awareness and Prevention Campaign. On the agenda:

  • Community events
  • Health fairs
  • High school and corporate outreach
  • Online and digital communities

There’s also the It Can Wait Movement. Initiated back in 2009 by AT&T, it’s now supported by the four major wireless carriers, along with more than 200 organizations across the country. Its mission: “To educate people—especially teens—about the dangers of texting and driving. The message is simple, yet vital: When it comes to texting and driving, it can wait.”

So far, more than 2.5 million have now pledged never to text and drive. Join their ranks and take the It Can Wait pledge, too. As they say, the life you save may be your own.

Need more convincing? Click here for the video, "From One Second to the Next."