Texting while driving draws attention

Ellen Gustavson/Staff Writer

It’s killed thousands of people and injured thousands more. The statistics are overwhelming. If something isn’t done about it soon, it will only get worse.

Is it swine flu? No, this epidemic on the minds of the public and policy makers is texting while driving.

Lately, it seems people and cell phones have been joined at the hip — and driving is no exception. Texting while driving is becoming more and more popular, even though studies show it quadruples the risk of collision.

An AAA (American Automobile Association) study shows that 61 percent of teens admit to risky driving, and 46 percent of those say they text while driving.

Junior Mary Jo Baumgartner admits that she texts while she drives and explained, “I don’t like making people wait just because I’m driving, which may sound stupid. I haven’t had a problem with it yet, so I’m not worried, I guess.”
Another AAA study shows that about a third of drivers feel less safe driving today than they did five years ago. The main reason: being distracted while driving.

“I can see drivers with their heads down, sometimes even illuminated by their phone glowing when it’s dark … they’re weaving in and out of their lane,” drivers’ education teacher Kevin Stewart said. “It’s definitely an increasing problem.”
But perhaps the most telling statistic is that, according to the AAA, of the 95 percent who think texting while driving is unacceptable, about one fifth of them have done it in the past month anyway.

Sophomore Jeff Daniels said, “That’s the stupidest thing you could do. Texting while driving is like driving with your eyes closed.”
Some students have other opinions, though. “I only text while I’m at stop lights,” junior Sara Buffington said. “I think cops have other stuff they should worry about besides texting and driving.”

For many, though, the cops should not be involved in an issue of personal choice.

Junior Cassie Crotty said, “It’s a person’s right to make their own decisions, even if they’re stupid ones. Yeah, it’s dangerous, but it should be a choice, not a regulation.”

According to the Obama administration, nearly 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries last year were blamed on distracted driving.
President Obama signed a bill a few weeks ago banning federal employees from texting while driving and is now looking at banning bus drivers and truckers.

But is that enough? Others think no one should be allowed to text while driving. Stewart agreed, “Yes, of course there should be ban.”
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already banned texting while driving for everyone, and nine states banned new drivers from the practice.
The Iowa House has failed twice to pass a bill banning texting while driving, but there are plans to propose another bill next year.

Mary Stahlhut from the Department of Transportation said, “I can’t guess what the Iowa or national legislators may do. In Iowa, I hope they will pass a bill banning texting while driving because it would send a firm message to all drivers that texting is an unsafe habit. The ‘need’ to text while driving is as dangerous as DUI and is not worth risking a death, injury or even a fender-bender for.”

Class of 2014

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