Sitting in the driver’s seat with a cell phone is a cause that lacks an advocacy group’s effective voice.
In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began its quest to pressure public officials to begin passing laws aimed at preventing alcohol-related vehicular homicide in the United States, an overall prevalent issue, especially for Americans aged 17 to 24.
In 2009, we shouldn’t wait for the creation of a nonprofit organization to rally behind legislation to stop young adults from text messaging while driving, which is quickly becoming our generation’s equivalent to the 1980s’ drunk driving battle.
In May 1980, California-native Candy Lightner, founder of MADD, was informed at work that a drunk driver killed her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, in a hit-and-run while she was walking to a carnival. Cari Lightner was knocked out of her shoes and launched 125 feet in the air from where she was hit.
In July 2007, Fairport, N.Y.-resident Bailey Goodman, 17, was driving herself and four friends to a family vacation home. The SUV Goodman was driving swerved into oncoming traffic, hit a tractor-trailer and burst into flames. The New York County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Goodman sent and received a text message immediately before a 911 call reporting the crash was made. All five occupants died upon impact.
Goodman’s ability to operate the vehicle was jeopardized because her eyes were focused on her cell phone, not on the road. The driver whose car hit Cari Lightner was so intoxicated his response time was delayed, which led to the lack of control of his senses and vehicle. The causes may be different, but in both cases, someone died because of preventable hindrances.
According to a July 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the risk of a crash or near-crash event while text messaging is 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving. The study also proved text messaging has “the longest duration of eyes off road time (4.6 seconds over a 6 second interval),” comparing it to a “driver traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking at the roadway.”
“I think [texting and driving] is becoming a bigger problem than drinking and driving,” Rosa Samuels, a sophomore mathematics major said. “More people have cell phones. There’s easier access to plans and services. And you have a better chance of getting hurt by someone texting than drinking because everyone has a cell phone, and not everyone on the road is drunk.”
So far, the Governors Highway Safety Association has reported only 18 states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers, while nine states prohibit text messaging by beginning drivers. And only Texas bans school bus drivers from texting while driving.
Twenty-nine years since a drunk driver killed Cari Lightner, 40 states and the District of Columbia allow highly publicized, highly visible and frequent sobriety checkpoints that MADD research has shown reduces alcohol-related crashes and fatalities by an average of 20 percent.
Eighteen states acknowledge that text messaging while driving can lead to dire consequences. The rest should realize we are seeing history repeat itself, and we need to act fast to stop another deadly trend.
Thomas Rowan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.