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Pledge not to text and drive — and keep it

July 22nd, 2013 9:48 am by Rebecca Horvath

Pledge not to text and drive — and keep it

Summertime is here and nothing says “summer” like a road trip. Whether to a beach, mountain retreat or tourist destination, summer vacations are a welcome break from routine.
Safety is a key part of travelling, and one of the biggest dangers on our roads today is distracted drivers. More than ever before, drivers are using cell phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel. Each year, approximately 100,000 crashes involve drivers who are distracted by electronics. Texting while driving increases the chance of an accident by almost 25 percent.   
In 2011, distracted driving-related accidents killed 3,331 people nationwide and injured 387,000. All of those accidents did not necessarily involve a driver who was texting, but it is recognized as the most dangerous type of distraction because it takes so much focus off the road.
Texting while driving is illegal in 39 states, including Tennessee. Some experts believe that drivers actually fear getting a ticket more than injury or death, but many folks do not even realize they can be ticketed for texting behind the wheel. The laws can be difficult to impose, but many states are exploring ways to improve enforcement.
We’ve probably all sent a quick text while driving at least once, but some folks seem to be talking or texting constantly while driving. The ability to multi-task can be a valuable quality, but while driving, we need to be hyper-focused on safety.
This summer, the four largest mobile phone service providers are teaming up with more than 200 other companies to sponsor an ad campaign aimed at reducing texting while driving. The “It Can Wait” campaign, started by AT&T last year, offers resources, education and support to consumers.
Years ago, through the work of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and commercial campaigns, the dangers of driving while intoxicated became well-known; the companies sponsoring It Can Wait hope to make texting and driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving.   
The companies have also combined efforts on a website called www.itcanwait.com. On the site, drivers can take a pledge to never text and drive, watch videos, learn how to help others commit to safer driving and try the texting and driving simulator. (If you’ve never seen a video simulation of what can happen when a driver texts behind the wheel, you owe it to yourself to watch one.)   
It’s a unique position for mobile phone companies — actually encouraging customers to not use their products and services — but it underscores the importance of the issue.
Most of the major mobile service carriers offer driving apps to customers; the service will automatically reply to texts and phone calls received while driving. Such apps are provided free of charge on many phone models. Although the app can be disabled, the extra step required is enough to help many folks leave the phone alone in the car.
Statistics show that 75 percent of teens say texting and driving is common among their friends. At an age when even having more than one friend in the car increases the chance of accidents, the combination of newly licensed, inexperienced drivers and electronic distractions is frightening.
Even more troubling, teens, who don’t remember a time before cell phones, often don’t understand why texting and driving is so risky. Of course, if teens have watched mom or dad text behind the wheel, they assume it is OK to do so, too.
Adults are often aware of the dangers of distracted driving but still text and talk behind the wheel. Our habit of being constantly connected is so addictive that we ignore basic safety. We feel we can’t leave the house without our mobile phones, we answer texts and calls immediately and check email constantly.
Considering the relatively short amount of time we’ve had such access, it’s staggering how much we can’t tolerate being disconnected. A huge part of the problem is simply the mindset we’ve developed.
But no call or text is so pressing that it can’t wait until we are safely off the road — if it’s urgent, pull off the road to a safe spot. A hands-off approach protects the precious cargo in our own vehicle and in those all around us. This summer, let’s all commit to driving as if our lives depend on it — because they do. Truly, it can wait.

Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife,  mother and community activist.

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