Distracted driving still dangerous

Published 1:06 am Sunday, June 17, 2012

Not that long ago, we would drive to work, take the kids to school, go out to eat, maybe even take a little trip with the acceptance and understanding that we might miss some phone calls. Maybe even some important ones.

The idea was that people would call back. Somehow, although it seems mysterious to us now, messages still got through. Communication happened.

Now, we expect, sometimes even welcome, calls and text messages while we’re eating out, at the movie theater, walking, exercising, at church, in the bathroom, and on and on. And, of course, driving. Never-ending communication has become part of our culture, especially for young people. …

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In Mississippi, a scaled-back ban on texting while driving passed in the Legislature two years ago, but it applied only to teens with intermediate licenses. … The first federal statistics on distracted driving involving texting were released June 7 and showed 16 percent of teen motor vehicle deaths were linked to distracted driving-texting.

For the first time this year, a government survey on risky behavior by teenagers asked if teens had sent text messages while driving. More than half said they had.

For the survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year questioned more than 15,000 public and private high school students across the country. Some earlier studies had suggested teen texting while driving was becoming common, though perhaps not quite so high. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said texting and cellphone use behind the wheel is “a national epidemic.”

… As a Mississippi lawmaker pointed out in the last session of the Legislature, texting is not easy for a patrolman to spot. And at least one study has shown that banning the practice made the distraction worse because drivers simply dropped their hand to their lap, taking their line of vision even farther from the road.

Unlike many problems involving teen behavior, parents may not be the answer to this one. Unfortunately, teens who are driving age are coming more and more under the influence of peers and less and less under the influence of their parents. And a new law may have limited practical impact. The teens are going to have to solve this one for themselves and others on the road with them.

Our hope is that increasingly when teens are driving and the cellphone rings, clicks or buzzes, they just won’t answer until they’re no longer driving.

Give the thumb some rest. Online: http://www.clarionledger.com