Editorial: Texting and driving is a deadly combination

01/01/2013 12:00 AM

01/02/2013 11:26 AM

We know it's dangerous, and it makes our blood boil when we see other drivers too busy with their cellphones to bother looking at the road.

Yet, it's obvious that many of us talk or text while behind the wheel anyway.

Nearly 3,000 drivers in Northern California – including 292 in Roseville and 231 in Sacramento – were cited during a 10-day crackdown on using cellphones while driving, officials reported last week. And surely, that's just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

The operation, Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, was the first of at least three in the Sacramento Valley by next June being funded by a $600,000 federal grant.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chose the eight-county region, along with the state of Delaware, to test whether increased enforcement, public service advertising and news coverage can significantly reduce distracted driving. Smaller efforts last year seemed to work, curtailing texting by drivers by 72 percent in Hartford, Conn., and by 32 percent in Syracuse, N.Y.

If you get caught in California, the ticket costs at least $159 for a first offense and $279 for a second offense. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in September to raise the base fines by $10.

It shouldn't take higher fines to remind us how dear the price could be if you get into a wreck.

Nationally in 2010, nearly 3,100 people were killed (one in 10 traffic fatalities) and 416,000 were injured in crashes involving a driver who was texting, talking on a cellphone, eating or who was otherwise distracted. Young drivers are the most at risk. Cellphone use is the No. 1 reason for distracted driver crashes in California, says the state Office of Traffic Safety.

Texting – because it requires drivers to look, use their hands and think – is the most distracting behavior, and is also the fastest-growing, according to NHTSA.

One study found that sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, creating a crash risk 23 times worse than not being distracted.

It's the equivalent of driving blind at 55 mph for 100 yards. Does that seem safe in any way? Of course not.

Studies have also shown that hands-free devices make little difference in lowering the risk. State officials will need to closely monitor the impact of a new law (Assembly Bill 1536) taking effect today in California that allows drivers to text if they use a voice-operated device.

It would be much better for everyone if you just turn off your smartphone when you get behind the wheel. It should be as automatic as putting on your seat belt. Let's be honest: How many texts or calls really have to be answered immediately?

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