Should a ban on texting while driving become next crusade?

Miami HeraldAugust 3, 2009 

Are you a one-handed glancer? A two-thumb-typing knee steerer?

Or maybe you're like Ashley Serrate, 26, who is an only-at-red-light responder.

Text messaging while driving has become a daily distraction for a generation of drivers hooked on instant communication -- and a menace to others on the road.

Last year, Heather Hurd, 26, and Stephanie Phills, 37, died when a truck driver, reaching for his hand-held device to text his office, rammed into traffic at a stoplight on U.S. 27 in Central Florida, causing a 10-car pileup, police said. The driver was cited for careless driving, a noncriminal offense that carries a $500 fine.

In May, a truant Tampa high school student slammed into a patrol car while texting. She caused $3,000 in damage but no injuries.

In New York, texting is considered the likely cause of a crash that killed five cheerleaders last year. And in April, a California woman was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a woman in a car accident -- caused by texting while driving.

Isolated incidents?

In a previously unreleased report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed last month that in 2002 there were 955 deaths and 240,000 crashes attributable to drivers using cellphones — either texting or talking. That was before texting became a true phenomenon.

This past week, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported that texting while driving is 23 times more dangerous than driving fully alert.

There are 14 states that make it illegal to send a text message while driving, but Florida isn't one of them. Rep. Doug Holder of Sarasota filed a bill Wednesday to make it illegal to read or type on any mobile device while behind the wheel in Florida.

He has been trying to get a bill passed for three years, to no avail. He hopes that the buzz around the new research could make a difference.

Holder calls the public safety issue "a no brainer.''

Cellphones have turned vehicles into rolling offices, and many can't resist typing a quick response.

"My friends are always texting while driving,'' said Ashley Serrate, who lives in Kendall. ``Sometimes even my mom does it.''

In a Harris Interactive/Intel survey, 28 percent of adults admit to typing while driving, and 8 percent said they do it often.

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com.

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