Mountain View Voice

News - March 23, 2012

Don't text and drive, teens urge

by Nick Veronin

A group of students at Mountain View High School have launched a campaign aimed at getting their peers to put away their cell phones while behind the wheel.

The campaign and its slogan, "Don't Drive InTEXTicated," intends to draw parallels between drunken driving and driving while sending or reading text messages. After all, the campaign's organizers reason, both behaviors can result in traffic accidents and even death.

They have designed wristbands emblazoned with the campaign slogan. In order to get one, teens must sign a pledge promising not to send or read text messages while driving.

"Driving while texting is no different than driving while intoxicated," said Dorothea Grimes-Farrow, chair of the Parent-Student-Teacher Association's School Safety Committee, which sponsored the campaign. She said that the teens who came up with the slogan wanted "people to have the same feeling of danger that you get when you hear the words 'driving while intoxicated.'"

Grimes-Farrow said she would hate to see any Mountain View High School students suffer the same fate as 18-year-old Taylor Sauer, who died after smashing into the back of a semi truck on an Idaho freeway earlier this year. She cited a Today show segment where Sauer's family members explain they have good reason to believe the teen may have been distracted by a mobile Facebook conversation at the time of the fatal accident.

Although current law prohibits sending text messages while driving, people still do it. A casual observer driving from one side of Mountain View to the other will likely notice someone sending or reading a text message in an adjacent vehicle. Couple that with statistics from a 2010 Pew Research Center poll showing that teens "send and receive text messages in numbers that are orders of magnitude greater than what is sent and received by adults," and one may safely assume that teens are texting a great deal more behind the wheel than adults.

According to a 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, one in four American teens of driving age reported they have sent a text while behind the wheel.

"Whether it's teens or adults, it's illegal and it's definitely a bad idea," said Liz Wylie, public information officer for the Mountain View Police Department. Mountain View police officers handed out 2,344 tickets for "hands-free" violations in 2011 — a category of citation which includes both talking on a cell phone without a headset and sending text messages or emails.

"Texting is particularly bad, because you're looking down, you lose track of how long you're looking down for — it's really dangerous," she said.

While Grimes-Farrow agrees that texting and driving is distracted driving, no matter who is doing it, she is particularly worried about teens who have less experience on the road than adults.

She pointed to an Australian academic study, "The Effects of Text Messaging on Young Novice Driver Performance." Conducted in 2005 by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, the study tested 20 drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 years old, finding that "retrieving and, in particular, sending text messages had a detrimental effect on a number of safety critical driving measures."

The study showed that test subjects who were concentrating on their phones were less likely to stay in their lanes, were less able to detect and respond to traffic signs, and that "drivers spent up to 400 percent more time with their eyes off the road when text messaging, than when not text messaging."

The Associated Student Body at Mountain View High School is planning a number of initiatives around the campaign — including asking local insurance companies and rental car companies to get on board by adopting the "Don't Drive InTEXTicated" slogan.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and in past years, Mountain View police have conducted crackdown campaigns. Wylie said she was not sure whether another such campaign is planned for next month.

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