Stories produced by St. Peter's Journalism Students
By Natalie Castillo, Class of 2014
It’s finally Friday and you just got out of work; time to drive home and freshen up before heading back out with friends. If only your best friend would text you to finalize your plans. You realize there’s no traffic in front of you so you speed up and then your phone vibrates. You only need to look away for a second to read it, no harm done right? In that one second you don’t see the car that has swerved in front of you into your lane. By the time you look up all you see is backlights and you hear the crunch and screech of metal against metal and broken glass. Who knew a second could change so much?
The U.S. Dept. of Transportation found that the 4.6 seconds it takes for a driver to hit send or read a text message is the equivalency to driving the length of a football field at 55mph, blind.
“As a driver you need to be attentive to everything that goes on around you. One second that you look away can change everything dramatically,” said 25-year-old Jessica Fontanez. “I admit I’m guilty of texting while driving, but I have a child now so I’m not just responsible for myself but for him as well.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there were 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide as a result of distracted driving just last year, which is actually more than drunk driving related accidents. Coincidentally, young drivers ages 18 to 20 are more likely to be in phone-related car crashes.
Recently, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for a federal law to ban texting and talking on cell phones on every road in the country. Thirty-eight states, including New Jersey currently have written laws prohibiting the use of cellphones while driving.
“Police officers have discretion when conducting motor vehicle stops. So while one officer may always stop anyone he or she sees using a cell phone while driving, others may not. There is no department wide obligation or order to issue those summonses,” said Edwin Mordan, a police officer who has been on the force for seven years. “The consequences are not substantial as the ticket does not result in any points on a person’s license. The extent of the penalty is a $100 fine. That is the way the law was written.”
In a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, ninety percent of drivers considered reading and sending emails and text messages as unsafe but younger passengers are less than likely to speak up. Passengers between the ages 18 to 24 would say something to the driver.
“When I’m in the car with my friends and they’re texting while driving, I won’t speak up unless they are driving recklessly,” said 19-year-old Dominique Koranteng.
The Ad Council found that many friends are the influencers to texting and driving, especially for drivers between the ages of 16 and 24. Sixty percent of young adult drivers have admitted to texting while driving and will continue to do so even though they know they are putting themselves and others in danger.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration along with Ray LaHood, the secretary of U.S. Transportation created http://www.distraction.gov/index.html to raise awareness about distracted driving. When LaHood decided to call the federal ban, he wasn’t as concerned with people who put makeup on or eat while driving because not everyone does that. Everyone in the country has a cellphone and everyone thinks that it isn’t too dangerous to talk, text and drive.
The U.S Dept. of Transportation is also conducting research on hands free devices which are also a distraction.
“I have spoken on my phone while driving on occasion in the past but would try to avoid it and pull over when possible. As far as texting, that requires looking at the screen so I have always pulled over to do it or when stopped at a red light. I have since bought a new car which has built in Bluetooth so I can speak freely on the phone,” said Mordan. “I still pull over when I need to text, otherwise it can wait till I’m at whatever location I’m going to.
LaHood has urged many car companies including Ford Motor Company to reconsider the devices they put in their new cars.
April was National Distracted Driving Awareness month. To raise awareness, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other organizations hosted the first ever nationwide Stop the Texts Day on May 1st. Their message “Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks” was directed to the youth who can also participate in this cause. The Driving Design Challenge encouraged teens to create an original icon or drawing to use on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to promote anti-distracted driving.
It’s finally Friday and you just got out of work; time to drive home and freshen up before heading back out with friends. If only your best friend would text you to finalize your plans. You realize there’s no traffic in front of you so before you speed up you check your rearview mirror and notice the driver behind you is texting while driving. You decide to let them drive ahead of you before you pull into the lane. By the time you stop you hear a screech followed by the sound of metal against metal and broken glass. Who knew a second could change so much? Is a text really worth risking your life?