Was that text message really that important? Unfortunately, this is a question that far too many individuals, especially young people, find themselves having to answer after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a “distracted” driver in 2011.
Although a driver can become distracted for many reasons other than texting and general cell phone usage, distraction associated with texting has become an increasingly big problem, almost to an epidemic level. The same study by the CDC established that 196 billion text messages were either sent or received in 2011 in the U.S., up nearly 50% from June 2009. In 2011, at least 23% of automobile collisions involved cell phones. With so many individuals now utilizing cell phones and/or mobile devices, these percentages will most certainly grow. The frequency of automobile accidents associated with texting has becomes so widespread that it is now being referred to as “Driving While Intexticated.”
On April 3, 2013, Alex Heit, age 22, was a student at the University of Northern Colorado with his entire life ahead of him. However, he was tragically killed that day due to texting while driving. At the time of the crash, Alex was texting “Sounds good my man, seeya soon, ill tw.” The message was never completed and sent. Witnesses stated that his head was down and off the road as he veered into the opposing lane of travel. In an effort to avoid a collision, Alex overcorrected and rolled his vehicle. Incidents like the one involving Alex are happening all too often on our streets.
The dangers and hazards associated with texting and driving have brought many states to respond with the passage of legislation that prohibits texting while driving. It has now been just over a year since Alabama became the 38th state to pass a law banning texting and driving. The Alabama law took effect on August 1, 2012. If caught, the law includes fines of $25 (first offense), $50 (second offense) and $75 (third and subsequent offenses). Each offense will result in a two-point violation on a person’s driving record. The law does not prohibit dialing or answering a cell phone.
When passed, Governor Robert Bentley said that “even though the penalties are not great, it is just reminding people not to do that.” However, the greatest reminder not to text while driving should be the death of Alex Heit and others who have lost their lives from such conduct. Alex’s mother said it best as she reflected on her son’s death by adding, “In a split second you could ruin your future, injure or kill others and tear hole in the heart of everyone who loves you.”
Parents should always be mindful of instructing and cautioning their teenagers about the dangers of texting and driving especially now that the school year has commenced. Teenagers will undoubtedly perceive a need to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances about academic, athletic and social activities during the school year and texting will oftentimes be the preferred method of communication.