Op Ed

Texting While Driving Is Killing People

More dangerous than drunk driving, it's a growing cause of accidents in state, nation.

By - Jan 3rd, 2017 11:16 am
Texting and driving. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Texting and driving. Photo is in the Public Domain.

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.

In response to the crisis, almost all states, including Wisconsin, have passed laws banning texting while driving. Wisconsin law states, in part, that “no person may drive … any motor vehicle while composing or sending an electronic text message or an electronic mail message.” Doing so can result in a fine of up to $400.

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.

Although a life can be lost in a fraction of a second from texting while driving, five seconds is the average amount of time that a person takes his or her eyes off the road while texting. Try closing your eyes and counting: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five. Taking your eyes off the road for five seconds is enough time to cover the length of a football field while traveling 55 mph.

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.

6 thoughts on “Op Ed: Texting While Driving Is Killing People”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    “Despite the laws, the number of people who send text messages while driving continues to grow dramatically.”

    Isn’t that at least partly because the laws are not being enforced? My MPD officer brother-in-law says they never stop people for texting-while-driving and that it’s not a major priority for them. I wish that would change. One can hardly go a day without encountering a distracted driver. It’s clearly extremely dangerous. Time for police departments to get serious about making enforcement a priority.

  2. will says:

    May I suggest honking ALOT when encountering a texting driver. It has been my experience that the perpetrator will get very annoyed, and maybe think about it next time??

  3. Jason says:

    I didn’t even know Wisconsin had a distracted driving (texting) law. Who would? It’s not publicized, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be enforced.

  4. Rickshala says:

    Why do we, in Wisconsin, allow hand held devices while driving? Some cities and states do not allow this.
    Our idiotic legislature is busy promoting themselves (including our terrible governor) instead of protecting the people with a smart law which would need to be enforced.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    It isn’t very well advertised, and it sure isn’t enforced. For shame. Jason we should contact our elected officials in Glendale and see what they have to say about it.

  6. Gus says:

    Wisconsin would do a much better service to its citizens by redirecting more efforts to stopping this serious problem of negligent people texting and driving as well as joining the other 49 states that treat first time drunk driving as a criminal offense. Instead the state goes after the overwhelmingly peaceful nonviolent cannabis users sitting at home playing their guitars. There clearly is no logic or justice in Wisconsin. Best thing you can do is write your representatives, and then leave this regressive, ignorant, agrarian backwater forever.

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