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Texting and driving dangerous, more prevalent

Under the influence

If you’re texting while driving, you’re not alone. You have a lot of dangerous company out there on the road. In light of the explosion of texting, safety is stressed by wireless providers and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol.

Text messaging overall has greatly increased over the last few years. Cellular South says approximately 50 billion text messages are sent and received each month in the U.S., up from approximately 10 billion in January 2006. AT&T says that more than 80 billion text messages were sent in 2005, and in 2007 that number reached 363 billion.

Highway Patrol Trooper First Class Johnny Poulas points out the obvious danger of driving with one hand while texting with the other. It’s a distraction that takes a driver’s eyes off the road.

“Traveling at 80 miles per hour, a driver covers 150 feet in one second,” he said. “In the two seconds that a driver looks away from the road to text (or do anything), he covers the length of a football field and accidents happen.”

It’s difficult to gather statistics on accidents caused by texting. Drivers or someone who sees them must tell officers that texting was occurring.

“There’s no telling how many accidents are caused by it,” Poulas said. “The biggest thing we deal with are distractions. Drivers should concentrate on driving and getting from point A to point B. If they don’t make it there, all those things they were worrying about or doing don’t matter.”

The Highway Patrol feels teenage drivers are especially vulnerable to texting while driving. Poulas and other troopers give PowerPoint presentations on driving safety around the state. They deal with distractions but know text messaging is a big culprit.

“When I speak at high schools, I ask how many text and almost all hands go up,” Poulas said. “But a lot of adults do it, too. Companies are stressing it for employees, but they still have to be responsible. If you know you need to text, pull over to do it. Employers have to use discretion about employees’ texting.”

Sending text messages was designed to be done with two hands. However, Poulas says drivers have gotten very proficient at doing it with one hand and using codes for words rather than spelling them out. That leaves one hand on the steering wheel but not the eyes.

“There are so many things we do every day we shouldn’t do while driving. Look at how many people are doing other things while driving,” he said. “It’s unbelievable!”

Cellular South spokesman Jim Richmond says the provider has been involved in various programs to promote safe driving with schools and business people. It is currently working to sponsor a program through the Highway Patrol along with promoting safety on its website.

AT&T sponsors Be Sensible, a public service campaign to encourage everyone to be more safe and courteous when using wireless devices. The program was developed in cooperation with several national organizations, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Driving School Association of the Americas.

“Be Sensible is all about common sense. It’s about using your phone when it’s safe and when it won’t disturb those around you,” said AT&T spokeswoman Sue Sperry. “While the training materials are more geared toward teens, everyone can benefit from learning about distracted driving. Driving safely is serious business.”

With approximately 1.8 billion people worldwide actively texting today, Sperry says it may seem that texting has already reached the point of ubiquity — the peak of its popularity.

“Can it grow much more? AT&T believes so,” she said. “The company reported in its second quarter earnings that text messaging volumes tripled compared to totals for the year-earlier quarter. In fact, AT&T has already surpassed its total text messaging volume number in 2007. We believe unlimited plans for individuals and families and the increase of full keyboard devices that make texting faster and easier are driving this growth.”

Richmond points out that wireless devices give consumers the freedom to stay connected with family, friends and business acquaintances anywhere, anytime.

“But when it comes to using wireless devices behind the wheel, it is important to remember that safety always comes first,” he said. “Cellular South has always been a strong advocate for wireless safety.”

Cellular South’s tips state firmly that to be responsible behind the wheel, drivers should not text and drive. It also stresses that schools and businesses provide training programs.

Sperry, too, notes that being connected anytime, anywhere is important to consumers and is thus fueling the cultural phenomena of growth in the wireless industry.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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