You know what the difference is between a drunk driver and driver sending a text?
A drunk driver weaves across lanes. A drunk driver makes really wide turns. And a drunk driver often speeds up and then slows down for no apparent reason.
The driving texter? Check. Check. And check.
As our phones become progressively smarter, we continue to unplug our brains and take even more chances behind the wheel. A new AT&T survey lays out in cringing detail just how careless we've become when the phone is within reach while we're driving.
While driving, have you....
Video Chat? 10%
It's not just young people making bad decisions behind the wheel. The AT&T survey says more than 25 percent of the drivers between 16 and 65 say they've been on Facebook behind the wheel and 14 percent have been on Twitter. Of those tweeting, nearly one of three drivers says they post to Twitter while driving "all the time."
This is more than just dangerous to the driver — it jeopardizes everyone near them. Randy Romanski, safety programs chief of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says people have to accept the fact they are responsible for themselves and anyone close by — in their car, next to them, and people on the street. "The five seconds it takes a person to read a text (at 50 mph) is the same as driving the length of a football field blindfolded. Motorists cannot drive safely and multi-task," said Romanski. "It can't be done."
Perhaps the biggest shock is the age of people dying in distracted-driving accidents. While the overall number of accidents is dropping, 43 adults (43-54) died in Wisconsin distracted-driving accidents between 2012-2014. In the same time period, 24 teenagers (16-19) were killed. As role models for safe driving, we are clearly failing our children.
Under Wisconsin law, anyone on a probationary or instruction permit is banned (regardless of their age) from using a cell phone in a car except to report an emergency. The number of convictions for texting while driving in Wisconsin are up from 347 in 2012 to 488 last year as even more cases head to court.
A recent New Jersey case should send a clear warning to all drivers and even their friends. That case held that if you send a text to someone you know is behind the wheel and an accident results, you can also be held liable in addition to the driver. That may be chilling, but when there is an inattentive driving accident somewhere in Wisconsin every 20 minutes, 24/7, cautionary messages need more muscle. Wisconsin could take a lesson from Illinois. Our southern neighbor last year banned handheld cell phone usage while driving. Period. Banned it.
It's not hard to find a solution to the problem of phones and cars. Google "preventing texting while driving," and you'll find nearly 700,000 articles with suggestions ranging from free — turn off the phone — to the latest in high-tech answers.
Since you started reading this column, someone in Wisconsin will have a car accident shortly because someone wasn't paying attention. In the next hour, someone is going to be hurt in a crash. In the next week someone in Wisconsin will die because of inattentive driving. As Romanski put it, "What if it was your loved one who died?"
Is it really that hard to turn put the phone away? Or as Click and Clack of NPR fame said so aptly, "Shut up and drive."
Ann S. Jacobs is the 2015 president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice and founder of Jacobs Injury Law S.C. in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Association for Justice is the largest statewide voluntary bar association. Its members support a mission of working for a fair and effective justice system.
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