Dangerous distraction: Texting-while-driving to be targeted by safety group
Annie Justiss of Mount Pleasant thinks text messaging and driving should be illegal, but she admits that she does it.
"That's the way everyone communicates now. It's just real quick and to the point," she said.
Justiss said she uses one hand to text and the other to drive. "I try to do it discreetly."
Justiss, 26, gets upset when she sees a driver texting.
"It's terrible and really annoying when other people do it," she said. She hates being a passenger in a car when the driver is texting.
Richard Geisert, 62, of West Ashley said texting should not only be illegal but impossible to do when a car is turned on. Once a key goes in the ignition, use of cell phones should be disabled, he said.
He will hang up on family members, including his wife and three daughters, if he knows they are talking on a cell phone and driving. Geisert recalled seeing a woman driving behind him in stop-and-go traffic on the Crosstown Expressway who was texting and putting on makeup.
"I could see the phone in one hand and the mascara in the other and she was driving with her knees," he said.
Distracted driving has become one of the most practiced deadly driving behaviors today, according to AAA Carolinas.
"I see it all the time," Geisert said.
Eating, gawking at a crash or daydreaming, fiddling with a navigation system, CD player or radio, or just talking with a passenger are some of the causes of distracted driving, experts say.
A new campaign by the AAA Carolina Foundation for Traffic Safety takes aim at texting and driving with a message that will be presented on TV, radio and billboards.
In one TV spot, three teen girls are in a head-on collision because the driver is texting. The billboard image for the campaign is blood splattered on a shattered windshield.
For radio, a phone call about what's for dinner ends in silence on the driver's end because of a texting-related crash.
"Some of the advertisements may be disturbing, but that is the intent, to create a lasting impression that texting while driving is dangerous," said Tom Crosby, the foundation's president.
Most people agree that texting while driving is unsafe, but they continue to do it because they think a texting-related crash is the result of the other guy, Crosby said.
"To us, it's worse than drunk driving. You don't have your eyes, your mind on the road," he said.
The AAA Carolina Foundation, the South Carolina Broadcasters Association and the South Carolina Public Safety Foundation are sponsors of the campaign, which is scheduled for the first six months of the new year.
"It's one thing to tell people not to text and drive," said Dave Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "By eliciting an emotional response, we hope these messages will help raise awareness and change deadly distracted driving behavior."
South Carolina has consistently ranked among the nation's top five most dangerous states per mile driven, according to AAA Carolinas.
The Broadcasters Association will distribute the anti-texting public service announcement to TV and radio stations in the next few days. It is up to the stations whether to air it, said Shani White, the association's executive director.
"We ask our stations to support this campaign. This is a topic on everyone's mind right now," White said. "We've gotten a variety of input from the stations. Some felt they would go with the more generic spot. Others felt very strongly they would go with the more powerful spot. A majority of the stations said they would probably run a combination."
WCSC-TV General Manager Rita Scott said Wednesday she has not seen the public service announcements. "As soon as we take a look at them, we'll make a decision as to whether to put them into rotation," Scott said.
WCBD and WCIV general managers were not available for comment Wednesday.
The president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of South Carolina could not be contacted Wednesday about how extensively the message would be used on billboards.
This year, the state House voted to outlaw texting while driving, but the Senate did not follow suit. So far at least 23 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers, and nine other states ban it for minors or new drivers.
Clemson City Council last February became the first in the state to impose a municipal ban on texting behind the wheel. Clemson University researchers found that when drivers were texting, at least some part of the vehicle was out of the lane 10 percent of the time.
The Police, Legal and Judicial Committee of the Mount Pleasant Town Council voted 3-1 last March to ban texting while driving, but Town Council later voted against the measure. The practicality of enforcing such a town law was debated and the council decided to wait to see if the General Assembly acted on the issue.
Also this year, the U.S. government prohibited its employees from texting behind the wheel of a federal vehicle. On-road texting also has been banned for the trucking industry. And the S.C. Department of Transportation has banned it for employees using state vehicles.
A 23-fold increase in the risk of crashing, nearly crashing or drifting from the driving lane was reported in a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of the risks of texting while driving a truck.
Research has shown that drivers take their eyes off the road more than 80 percent of the time while texting. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has concluded that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into serious accidents.
The NHTSA reported that in 2009 there were 5,474 people killed in vehicle accidents caused by driver distraction. Cell-phone use accounted for 18 percent of fatalities attributed to distraction, according to a recent report on driving safety released by the Emergency Nurses Association.