On September 22, 2006, 19 year-old Reggie Shaw was driving an SUV on a highway in Utah. He became distracted and crossed over the center line into oncoming traffic. He sideswiped a Saturn coming in the opposite direction, causing it to veer out of control and slam into the truck behind him. The two occupants of the Saturn, Keith O’Dell and James Fufarro, were killed on impact.
It was later determined that Shaw was distracted because he was sending a text message. He received a jail sentence of 30 days and served 100 hours of community service.
These days, cell phone usage is at an all-time high, but in recent years, a new phenomenon has swept the nation.
Text messaging has taken the place of talking and driving as the most distracting thing to do while in the driver’s seat.
When drivers receive a text message, they take their eyes off the road for a second to see who it’s from. Then, just to read it, they must take their eyes off again for a few more seconds. All the while, they are completely diverted from the task at hand.
No big deal, right?
Everyone is guilty of being temporarily distracted to tune the radio, change out a CD or read an eye catching
billboard. The real problem is when people reply to a message. Depending on the response, the driver could be distracted for several minutes.
That’s when things go wrong.
Senior psychology major Jude Austin said, “Obviously it’s a bad idea. It’s just as bad as driving under the influence (of) alcohol. They both alter your awareness and ability to make decisions.”
Sophomore cell biology major Hillary Halderman said, “I’m more conscious about it now, but I still do it occasionally.”
Many people realize the dangers of texting and driving but they continue to do it.
Senior sport management major Christi Williams said, “I do it, but I know it isn’t smart. It kind of worries me, though, because I know other drivers are doing it as well.”
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported that people who text while driving are 2.8 times more likely
to be in a crash. So what is being done to combat this new way of getting into accidents? Director of Public
Safety Gary Sargent said that the state of Texas passed a law concerning driving and cell phones.
“This year we saw (a law) passed that you can’t use your cell phone in a school zone area. Whether it will
be expanded beyond that is anyone’s guess,” he said.
While the new law in Texas may seem lenient, the state of Utah is cracking down. Texting and driving can land someone in jail for up to three months and require a $750 fine.
If the culprit kills someone, he or she can spend up to 15 years in prison and receive a $10,000 fine.
A company by the name of eLYK Innovation has come up with a program called Textecution. It is software that uses the phone’s GPS system to detect if the car is moving at a speed greater than 10 miles per hour. If so, the text message operations are deactivated. This feature is available now for a monthly fee of $9.99.
Another program is being developed by wireless providers that is essentially the same concept, but with
a few changes. It’s called Speed- Based-Blocking and not only will text messaging be shut down, but also phone calls. However, instead of using the phones’ GPS system to detect speed, cell phone towers that are in range will relay that information. This program will be out sometime this year.
“In addition to texting, we see people reading and putting on makeup,” Sargent said. “It’s not an issue of just texting; it’s an issue of drivers not paying attention to what’s happening.”