Texting while driving a cause for concern

Published 10:54 pm Friday, January 15, 2010

More communities are starting to address safety concerns that have come with the advent of mobile communication technology. The hottest topic seems to be texting while driving.

Just this week, the city of Jacksonville in Calhoun County became the first Alabama city to ban texting while driving. On Wednesday, the House Public Safety Committee approved a proposed statewide ban.

A study released Tuesday by the National Safety Council said 28 percent of all vehicle crashes are caused by people either talking on a cell phone or sending a text message while driving.

“My parents are telling me I won’t be able to use my phone at all while driving,” said Anmol Ahuja, a Chilton County High School sophomore and president of the school’s SADD chapter (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

Friday morning, Ahuja turned in a summary on a news story about texting while driving in her history class. That morning, the class took a survey and 60 percent of students admitted to texting while driving.

“That is a scary amount, because when you’re out there on the road, you’re not only risking your own life, you’re also endangering the lives of others,” she said.

Ahuja said her parents require her to call home prior to getting on the road. But she is concerned about other drivers who may be distracted.

“There are so many innocent people out there. What if another teenager comes and rams into them? It’s not their fault,” she said.

Like most teenagers, Ahuja enjoys texting. She estimates that she sends/receives about 100 text messages per day. Most of these are short messages, she said, and are not important enough to have to send while driving.

“I don’t see any good side of texting while driving,” she added.

According to the national study, 1.4 million crashes are caused by people talking on cell phones, while 200,000 are attributed to texting.

The Alabama bill, which also covers handheld GPS devices, would impose fines for lawbreakers, $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense, and $75 for the third. Court costs would be added to fines.

Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said enforcement could be difficult, depending on whether texting is a primary or secondary offense. If it were a secondary offense, officers would need another reason to stop a vehicle.

“We do see a lot of instances where people are talking on cell phones, and a lot of them are texting,” Stilwell said, recalling a young driver on the Interstate going 40 mph in the right lane, holding the wheel with her elbows.

Then there is the question of whether or not to allow Bluetooth devices, which incorporate the use of headsets. Some states do not allow texting regardless.

“It will be interesting to see how it comes out,” Stilwell said.

He said Clanton averages about 800 private property and roadway accidents per year.

For more information on Alabama’s proposed ban on texting, visit http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/acaslogin.asp and look up HB35.