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A Cautionary Message About Texting and Driving

In the campaign to curb distracted driving, logic and statistics only go so far.

We were driving through western New Jersey at the start of our spring-break when we ran into one of those mysterious traffic back-ups in the middle of nowhere.

We inched along for miles, stopping and starting, until suddenly, on a hill, the car in front of us started to roll backwards. Maybe the car was in neutral. Maybe it was a stick shift and the driver had the clutch in.

The car rolled closer to us. The man behind the wheel had his head down. And then, just as I was about to blast him with my horn, he looked up and braked.

I switched lanes, and as we pulled up next to him, his head was down again. His thumbs were flying over a smartphone keyboard.

As encounters with texting drivers go, we were lucky. But I’ve been thinking about this moment in light of the

In 2009, more than 5,500 people were killed and almost 500,000 were injured because drivers were distracted for one reason or another. About 20 percent of the fatalities involved a cell phone.

Distracted driving is the new drunk driving.

And of all the forms of distracted driving, texting is right up there with applying makeup as the most indefensible activity to undertake while behind the wheel.

What to do about it?

Since texting is so prevalent among young drivers, I’ve been thinking about something that made a lasting impression on me as a teenager.

In my drivers-ed class—back in the days before mandatory seat-belt laws—we had to watch a film produced by the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol that showed in grisly detail the consequences of not wearing seat belts in a high-speed crash. The bloody, mangled and contorted bodies were a form of shock therapy.

After that, buckling up became second nature to me.

What if there were something similar about the dangers of texting while driving?

There is.

Two years ago, the police department of Gwent, Wales produced a four-minute public service video that plays like a mini horror movie.

Three girls are driving down a busy highway, laughing and enjoying themselves. The driver, who is texting somebody, doesn’t notice that she’s drifting over the dividing line into oncoming traffic.

She looks up too late. In the head-on collision that follows, we see the girls’ heads hit the windshield and windows, hear the sickening snap of breaking bones and watch as the car spins around on the highway, only to be hit again by another car.

The rest of the video, which has no narration, shows police and emergency medical workers trying to get to the blood-soaked girls trapped inside the car. The passenger in the front seat is clearly dead. The girl in the back seat is unconscious. The driver cries uncontrollably.

In one of the other cars, a little girl tells the police that she wants her mommy to wake up.

You can read that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident than attentive drivers, and you can think to yourself, “Yes, makes sense. Texting and driving. Not a good combination.”

But the Welsh video turns statistics into flesh-and-blood reality, the kind that can change behavior.

“The messages contained in the film are as relevant to the people of Tennessee as they are to the residents [of Wales],” the head of Gwent’s police department said when the video was released. “Texting and driving can have tragic consequences, and the more this film is viewed, the better.”

The video is available on YouTube here. Parents should watch it first before showing it to their children. For drivers in Westchester and the Hudson Valley as well as in Wales and Tennessee, it's a powerful indictment of a deadly, and entirely avoidable, distraction.

Cygel White June 02, 2011 at 02:26 AM
“TextKills, an advocacy group committed to road safety, is dedicated to increasing awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. With the proliferation of Smartphones and the constant streaming of information to and from these and other “smart” mobile communication devices, texting while driving (TWD) is now an epidemic that results in thousands of fatalities and 100's of thousands of injuries annually. TextKills educates the public through social media campaigns and school tours in order to promote policies and programs aimed at enhancing greater personal responsibility and safety awareness among drivers and, ultimately, eliminating TWD from our roadways.” In 2010, TextKills launched a tour to rally college and high-school students against the dangers of TWD. Our team presented information to these students and encouraged each attendee to sign a promise to pay attention when driving. We also promoted a mobile application designed to help drivers resist the urge, and temptation, to engage in TWD. The TextKills blog (www.textkills.com) documented each stop along the way as the tour eventually found its way to the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. TextKills strongly believes that it is critical to direct its mission to the youth of this country, given the findings of a 2009 government study that found that the under-20 age group comprised the largest percentage, by age category, of distracted drivers.

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