RALEIGH, N.C. – Governor Pat McCrory dropped in on a meeting of the North Carolina Statewide Impaired Driving Task Force last week and added another item to its agenda: texting while driving.
It’s an appropriate issue to put on the plate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
And the No. 1 killer of teenage drivers is texting.
The task force comprises a variety of law enforcement officers and individuals with varying transportation and substance abuse credentials. During the meeting they presented some grim statistics.
In 2013, there were nearly 11,000 crashes caused by impaired driving in North Carolina. Almost 350 people were killed.
The task force, appointed in January, is working on its final plan, due in July. The governor pointed out some areas that of particular concern to him. One was underage drinking, along with texting while driving.
“And it’s deadly; it’s as deadly as drunk driving. I’m convinced of that more than ever now,” McCrory said, asking the task force add its input about texting to its report.
Texting and driving is often seen as a “teen thing.” One study estimated 3,000 teenager crash deaths nationwide were caused by texting in a year. That compared with about 2,700 deaths annually caused by DWI.
But findings show something interesting. It seems that as teens get older, their texting habits get worse. Of 15-year-olds, just 24 percent texted while driving. High school juniors – 43 percent. And seniors? Instead of getting better, they texted or emailed at a rate of 58 percent.
And adults behave pretty badly behind the wheel with their phones as well. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, adults are just as likely as teenagers to have texted while driving. They are even more likely to have talked on the phone – 75 percent reported talking on the phone and driving, compared to about half of cell-owning teenagers ages 16 to 17.
The report says that close to half of adults who use text messaging have sent or read messages while driving.
One conclusion we can draw is that the development of technology has once again outstripped human beings’ ability to cope with it. Some researchers have compared people’s interaction with their cell phones as an addiction – that a cell phone user gets a physiological charge in the brain akin to that a gambler feels when hitting a jackpot.
It may be an addiction without a fix. If you look around you as you drive along a major highway, you’ll find yourself surrounded by other drivers with cell phones in hand. I myself have seen a rash of distracted driving crash cases out of the Triad area lately.
Even hands-free devices don’t make cell conversations safe, according to some research. It’s already hard to imagine a world in which people don’t talk and drive, especially with so many vehicles have hands-free phone capability built right into the steering wheel.
We can only hope that law enforcement and public relations campaign can educate people enough that they do the right thing: Hang up and drive. Pull over to talk or text.