Texting behind wheel drives up fatalities

News Editor

A staggering 77 percent of young adults are said to be either very or somewhat confident in their ability to communicate through text messaging while operating a motor vehicle, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With no housing or dormitory options available, the entire County College of Morris student body must commute to campus in some form, a potentially deadly requirement when considering the risky driving trends of many young motorists.

“I’m guilty of it,” said 21-year-old CCM student Blake Gillis. “My lifestyle demands that I stay connected regardless of my whereabouts, which is why I’ve learned to multitask.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, many drivers
shared the same demanding lifestyle as Gillis’, citing the importance of response time to messages as one of their main reasons for texting while driving.

Yet some CCM students, suchas19-year-old Tara Schibelli, have a somewhat safer alternative that enables them to stay connected without ever taking their eyes off the road.

“I use a bluetooth earpiece if I know it’s important,” Schibelli said. “I’m able to maintain total control of the car because both hands are on the wheel, and my eyes never leave the road but still have communicative capabilities.”

The theory of using hands free capabilities to communicate while driving as a safer alternative is not supported by the NHTSA, which categorizes phone use of any kind to be elements of distracted driving. According to the organization, the number of fatalities attributed to distracted driving exceeded 5,000 in 2010, with 1.3 million crashes involving cell phones.

Due to the many outside factors that have driven gasoline prices to high amounts, many students have opted to carpool or take mass transportation to CCM. These students are just as vulnerable to texting drivers, thus creating gray areas for passenger protocol.

“At first I didn’t think I had the right to tell somebody how to drive, especially since I’ve texted while driving in the past,” said 23-year-old CCM student Melissa Cabral. “I told [the driver] to stop texting and pay attention to driving.”

Texting while driving is virtually impossible for a driver to accomplish without shifting visual focus at some point, a notion supported by the 2013 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute research indicating texting drivers are roughly 23 times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than those who ignore their device behind the wheel. The investigation also suggests the minimal amount of time a driver’s attention is taken off the road when texting and driving is 5 seconds.

“I’ll never forget the fear of being a passenger, knowing the driver was more focused on their cell phone than driving,” Cabral said. “My life was at risk.”


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