Providence Prowl: Driving while texting questions safety

By Liz Tarry

The cell phone laying on your dashboard vibrates.  You wait to see if it’s a call but then realize it’s a text message.  The lit-up screen stares you in the face, but you keep your hands at 10 and 2.  You start to worry. What if it’s my mom? What if something bad happened?  You finally check the message, but it turns out it’s only Jack asking “u wanna hang tonite dude?”

Your eyes come off the road for five seconds to answer him, but those five seconds are all that’s needed for a fatal accident.  Texting and driving kills 6,000 teenagers each year, contributing to the biggest killer of people under the age of 25: car accidents.

When asked if she thought drunk driving or texting behind the wheel was more dangerous for teenagers, sophomore Paige Harrell replied that she is completely against both, but “driving drunk is worse because you’re more likely to severely injure yourself and other people.”

According to a study conducted by Virginia Tech, texting while driving can increase your risk of crashing by 23 times, as opposed to driving while drunk, which increases the risk 7 times.

Teenagers, myself included, hear these ridiculous statistics from adults all the time.  Like most everything they say, it goes in one ear and out the other.  It’s not until these statistics impact you directly that they finally hit home.

Matt Davis, a junior from Country Day School, lost his older sister to a fatal car crash in October of 2009.  His sister was halfway out of an intersection when she looked down to check her texts.  A semi-truck hit the driver’s door, killing her instantly.  Tears in his eyes, he says: “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.  One text message cost me a sister.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2008, nearly 6,000 people like Davis’ sister died in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured.  In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone, regardless of age, to text while driving.  If you’re under 18, it is prohibited to use a cell phone while driving a car.  The penalty for this is $25.

This fine raises the question: If texting behind the wheel is in fact more dangerous than drunk driving, why is the penalty for a DUI so much worse?  According to AllState’s Keep the Drive website, one text while driving is equal to four beers.  Four beers put the average person at a .09 Blood Alcohol Content level, over the national limit of .08.

If you get behind the wheel while drunk, you will receive a mandatory 1-year license suspension and a substance abuse assessment/treatment; whereas, if you distract yourself with a cell phone as opposed to a bottle of Bud, you get away with a slap on the wrist and a $25 fine.  I believe that the fine for texting while driving should be the same as a DUI.  Twenty-five dollars is not an adequate penalty for something that kills 6,000 people per year.  Not even close.

So the next time Jack texts you while you’re behind the wheel, ask yourself: Is this text more important than a life?  If your answer is no, the text message can wait until the car is parked.

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