Texting and driving increases danger

Mariana Silva

A deadly distraction

Texting and driving caused more than 16,000 deaths from 2001 to 2007, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in late September.

Ohio House Bill 415, which proposed prohibiting texting and driving and punishing drivers who do so, was signed by the House in March, and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

If the bill is approved, a violation to the law would be considered a minor misdemeanor, punishable with a ticket and/or a citation.

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“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; this is a human safety issue,” wrote Representative Michael DeBose, one of the bill’s sponsors, in an e-mail. “You can’t regulate common sense, but you have to regulate behavior that is dangerous to society. No right-thinking person should be opposed to limiting drivers from texting on the roads.”

DeBose said driving can sometimes become second nature. Although some accidents are beyond the driver’s control, becoming distracted while driving can make the road even more dangerous.

Jerin McIntosh, a junior fashion merchandising major, said she wasn’t texting while driving when she struck a man last week on Summit Street, but she knows very well she could have been.

“It was a very scary situation. I wasn’t texting at the time, but it was scary even though I wasn’t texting,” said McIntosh, a self-described texting enthusiast. “The guy didn’t get hurt, but if he had gotten hurt, I would be doing something that I had no business doing. It would have been bad. I would have felt horrible.”

Using mobile devices and computers or watching a DVD while driving can distract drivers, leading to an accident. These accidents have increased 28 percent from the 1999 to 2005 period to the 2001 to 2007 period, according to the AJPH study.

“How can you pay attention on the road if you are looking at your phone?” said Carl J. Jacklitch, a junior geology major. “I think texting and driving might be just as dangerous as driving when you are tired. Either way you are not paying attention on the road.”

Scott Varner, deputy director of communications of the Ohio Department of Transportation, said it’s difficult to determine the accidents caused by distraction because police reports don’t usually show that as the cause.

“One of the challenges we have in Ohio is knowing when distracted driving is the root of the accident,” Varner said.

Kent Police Lt. Jayme Cole said changing the way distracted driving is reported on Ohio crash reports would require more than a change in legislation.

In the event of an accident, Cole said it would be necessary for either the person driving to confess to the traffic violation or for a firsthand witness to report the cause of the accident, neither of which is likely to happen.

“It’s not just texting. It’s being distracted by using the GPS function, or tweeting, or talking on the phone, or changing a CD,” Cole said. “Texting is just one of many contributing factors to distractive driving, which is the real issue.”

“If I tell a young driver that the ultimate possible penalty for texting while driving is death, is it going to stop him from doing it?” Cole asked. “So, what does a $100 ticket mean to that person?”

Contact Mariana Silva at [email protected].