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Stop texting and driving to save some lives

A Progress employee came into the office last week and recounted a bad wreck she’d seen the day before. A young woman failed to shift her vehicle when the lanes shifted on Highway 575, and she ran into a concrete barricade.

The first thing we suspected was that the girl was texting -- why else would someone drive straight into a wall? Even if there was another explanation the fact we immediately assumed she had been is an indication of how rampant texting and driving has become - even though it’s illegal in Georgia, and even though it’s killing a record number of people on our roads. With the busy summer driving season unfolding, and lots of teens behind the wheel, let’s please please please stop texting while we’re driving and save some lives.  

According to the GDOT, fatalities on Georgia's roads are up a staggering 33 percent over the past two years, which is more than four people who die every day. In 2016, there were 1,559 fatalities, that’s 127 more than in 2015. The state agency launched the DriveAlert ArriveAlive safety campaign to address this startling increase in deaths. Distracted driving is  now killing more people than drinking and driving. In fact, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drinking while driving. 

Here are a few other striking stats: 

•The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

•1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. 

•Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to travel the length of an entire football field.

The numbers are frightening, but we’re not surprised. It seems like you can’t go a day without another motorist drifting into your lane only to abruptly correct themselves last minute. 

And we’ve all probably been the motorist doing the texting and almost had an accident ourselves, then vowed never to text and drive again (then a few days later that phone dings while you are on the road and all is forgotten). 

Texting and driving has been illegal in Georgia since 2010 and there is technology in place that allows for “hands-free” or restricted use, but with the number of distracted driving fatalities related to cell phone use so high and no improvement in sight, the law and the technology are obviously not changing people’s behavior. 

A recent survey showed that while 98% of drivers think texting while driving is dangerous, 66% admit to doing it themselves. Why can’t we stop if we know it kills? 

One problem is that texting has addictive qualities, which makes it compulsory and hard to stop. A New York Times article cites a study of 400 eighth and 11th graders that “found that many teenage texters had a lot in common with compulsive gamblers, including losing sleep because of texting, problems cutting back on texting and lying to cover up the amount of time they spent texting.”

We know from police and sheriff’s officers that the texting law is difficult to enforce. So in addition to possible fines if caught, the problem is also going to take a major shift in our public thinking and some self-control on our part. 

Remember when it was okay to smoke in a doctor’s office or throw your kid in the car with no seatbelt? Most people wouldn’t dream of doing those things these days. Over time, we’ve realized that things we once considered perfectly fine aren’t, and texting and driving should be one of them. It’s not okay and you know it deep down -- so don’t do it.

The next time your phone is in the passenger’s seat and puts off that little “ding,” muster up some will power and leave it there until you pull over.