The charge has become commonplace: “Don’t text and drive.” When you hear those words, you most likely get the picture of a person behind the wheel of a car, cellphone in one hand, eyes and attention off the road and on the text. But an appeals court in New Jersey ruled on August 27, 2013, that those who send a text to a driver they know to be behind the wheel could also be held liable if the recipient of the text causes a crash. That’s a new twist.
In the New Jersey case, two teenagers were texting – one in his car and one at home. They sent each other 62 texts that day before the accident, according to court documents. Does that sound odd to you? It isn’t. According to a September 2012 CNN report, Americans ages 18 to 29 send and receive an average of nearly 88 text messages per day, compared to 17 phone calls. The non-profit CTIA found that 171.3 billion text messages are sent in the US every month. And, of course, teens aren’t the only ones who text; 77% of teens have admitted to watching their parents text and drive.
At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association. Texting is responsible for 1,600,000 accidents per year (National Safety Council) and 330,000 injuries per year (Harvard). We don’t know what the texts said. It doesn’t matter – No text is worth the risk. It can wait.
That’s the message of a new 35-minute documentary by award-winning filmmaker Werner Herzog. Entitled “From One Second to the Next,” the film describes four accidents — two of them fatal, all of them preventable. The film was financed by America’s four largest wireless carriers and will be widely distributed to high schools. You can – and should — watch it on-line here: http://www.itcanwait.com/videos.
In some instances, the drivers recall what they were texting just before the crash; in others, they have no recollection. Reggie Shaw, who caused a 2006 crash that killed two scientists, confesses, “I don’t remember what the message said. That’s how important it was.” He now weeps, and regrets.
No text is worth the risk. It can wait.
Psychology Today offers the following suggestions for parents:
- Parents, lead by example. Don’t talk on the phone or text when you’re operating a vehicle.
- Have teens lock that phone in the trunk or glove compartment. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Teach them the importance of pulling off the road and parking the car to respond.
- Teach your teen to speak up if they’re in the car with a texting driver. Perhaps they could offer to text the message so the driver can keep his/her eyes focused on the road.
- Sign a pledge along with your teen to not text and drive. One is AT&T’s “No Text on Board” pledge.
And I would say, sit with your child and watch Werner Herzog’s film. What they hear from those who caused texting accidents and from those who were forever harmed by the accidents may have more of an impact than your cautionary instructions. I’ll lay you odds you won’t be untouched either.