Texting While Driving Is Killing People
More dangerous than drunk driving, it's a growing cause of accidents in state, nation.
The number of people who send text messages on their cellphones while driving is dramatically increasing in Wisconsin and across the United States, and it is deadly.
Many of us have done it. A 2013 survey by AT&T revealed that 49 percent of adults admitted to texting and driving.
Texting while driving is a form of “distracted driving” and the number of deaths related to it are stunning. In 2014, more people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers (3,179) than were killed in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than eight people are killed every day in the United States in distracted driver-involved crashes. In 2015 in Wisconsin alone, crashes involving distracted driving led to the deaths of nearly 100 people and 11,000 injuries.
Despite the laws, the number of people who send text messages while driving continues to grow dramatically.
Some Wisconsin high schools are teaching students about the dangers of texting while driving. One strategy is to show the students real stories of peers talking about losing friends or loved ones in texting-while-driving crashes. While many students seem to be moved by these real-life accounts, we have yet to see what impact these educational programs will have on the rate of texting while driving.
A strong argument can be made that we are in greater danger, statistically, from those who text and drive compared to those who drive drunk. Between 2005 and 2012, drunken driving fatalities decreased by 28 percent in the United States. Between 2005 and 2008, the number of distracted driving fatalities in our country increased by 28 percent. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of people who were observed “visibly manipulating” their phones while driving increased by an astounding 650 percent.
Texting while driving has a significant impact on a person’s reaction time. According to a study by the Transport Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom, sending a text message decreases a driver’s reaction time by 37 percent, while drinking to the legal limit decreases a driver’s reaction time by 13 percent. In 2015, the number of people injured in Wisconsin as a result of distracted driving (nearly 11,000) far surpassed the number of people injured as a result of drunken driving (nearly 2,900).
While driving behavior like “swerving” used to be a relatively common indicator of drunken driving, it may now be more indicative of a person who is sending a text message.
The stories are heartbreaking. A 35-year-old Wisconsin woman named Destiny Xiong was recently charged with vehicular homicide in Minnesota, relating to a distracted driving crash. Xiong reportedly admitted she had been reading a text message from her daughter while driving. After allegedly dropping her phone and looking for it, Xiong’s car slammed into a car driven by a young mother, who later died.
The dangers caused by texting and driving are enormous. Many people are addicted to their cellphones and driving has become more of a boring, routine inconvenience to some than a luxury. Using a cellphone while driving, sadly, fills the boredom gap.
Far too many of our citizens are injured or killed every year as a result of texting and driving. These tragedies are preventable. It is my hope that in 2017, we continue to talk to each other about the real dangers of this activity so that more of us can live to see 2018.
Casey Hoff is a criminal defense attorney, based in Sheboygan.