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July 31st, 2009
12:01 PM ET

OMG: That's so dangerous!

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Picture a car careening down a Los Angeles freeway in rush hour with the driver crunching a phone between his cheek and shoulder, one hand holding a sputtering tape recorder, the other furiously scribbling in a notebook, all while he steers with his knees. Here is a great truth of the American roadway: I have multi-tasked at 70 mph in heavy traffic like a Zen master.

But now, like a congressman caught in a sex scandal, I am ready to swear I’ll never do it again. At least when it comes to the practice of messaging or texting while behind the wheel.

A new report coming out of Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute says texting while driving is not merely dangerous, but something akin to juggling rabid cats. Try it enough times and you’ll get hurt. In real studies of real drivers in real traffic, the researchers found that truckers were 23 times more likely to have an accident if texting, and Tom Dingus, who runs the VTTI, says there is no reason for the rest of us to think we’ll do any better.

This came as something of a surprise for me. I have thumbed notes to colleagues, my wife, my kids, my friends, while slipping through DC traffic like a fish. Sure, I’ve been startled by the odd Volvo which has miraculously appeared dead stopped a few feet in front of me. Of course, I’ve looked up from the glowing screen to see the saucer-sized eyes of a pedestrian I was poised to mow down with the efficiency of a soybean combine. But I’ve always told myself those are anomalies. I am flicking my eyes toward the road enough to be safe.

“That’s what everyone thinks,” Dingus says. But the numbers tell a different story. If you drop a CD into your car stereo, you may take your eyes off of the road for a second-and-a-half. Dial your cellphone; that’s three seconds. But texting typically involves taking your eyes off of the street for almost five seconds at a time. At highway speeds, that’s long enough for you to travel the length of a football field, including both end zones, all while driving blind.

Several U.S. Senators are now backing a bill to outlaw texting by all drivers, and operators of mass transit coast to coast. There are already ten states – plus DC – that are enforcing such laws and they’re expecting four more states to have anti-texting laws go into effect this fall.

I can’t say if these laws will really make a difference. People often find ways around them. But as for me, I don’t need a police officer to tell me it’s dangerous anymore. I got the message.

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Natalie

    My PREGNANT friend almost got hit by a girl who was driving while texting! Honestly, some people.

    August 3, 2009 at 5:42 am |
  2. Alice

    This is why I ride public transportation. You can text all you want on the bus.

    August 1, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  3. LaShonda

    This is hard for me to believe!

    It is hard for me to believe that people still have to look at their phones to text a message.

    To be factual, most individuals that text, never have to look at their phone to text. It's comparable to typing. If you type, you don't have to look at your keyboard, you know what you are typing due to the placement of your fingers, as in texting.

    I am not sure how accurate this study is. I am 39 years old. I am sure that younger people are even more skilled. This research should be preformed on other individuals that are a little younger than the ones that help come up with these statistics.

    July 31, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  4. Lori

    My sixth-grade math teacher had our class figure out the distance we would travel "blind" if we were driving a car at 60 miles per hour during a 3-second sneeze. Almost 300 feet. It was a good lesson for young drivers.

    July 31, 2009 at 9:11 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    If the fine was high enough and the police very diligent about catching and citing these people for operating their cell/pager/iphone while driving then a lot of cities would have a very good revenue from those tickets – at least until the public decided to obey the law because it was too expensive not to.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  6. Genie

    Once I say this women pull into our parking lot and backed into a parking space. The entier time she's on her phone; and it only took one try

    July 31, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
  7. Michelle

    I can't even text sitting at my desk much less driving the car. I have had way too many car accidents to take those kind of chances. One of those life lessons learned way before cell phones and text messaging. Shame on you Cooper.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:09 pm |
  8. Linda from NC

    There should be a law against using the cell phone period, unless it's for emergency calls or when you're stopped in a long line of traffic going nowhere. Just a law for texting is perplexing to me.

    Of course, any law against using the cell phone, even for texting, is not going to be easily enforced. Officers won't see somebody texting on their laps or below the range of sight, so how can it be enforced?

    The only time it's going to be useful is when an accident occurs and it can be proven the person sent a text message. But by then, it's too late.

    They need a blanket law not a bandaid law. Like seatbelts, people will choose to do what they want to and rarely get caught or prosecuted.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Fernando

    setup a fine of 2,000 and lets wait for the first infraction..... make it very public... now let's wait for the 2nd one (maybe a year later)

    July 31, 2009 at 4:24 pm |
  10. Diane N.

    A cell phone is only good to take a picture of the guy on the cell phone who hits you or runs you off the road while on his cell phone LOL

    July 31, 2009 at 4:06 pm |
  11. Beverly

    Sadly, there's no real way texting while driving can be enforced, until it's too late and someone is killed because of it.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  12. Beverly

    the area where I live in has seen numerous fatalities by young people due to texting. an SUV carrying 5 college-bound women crashed, and all died, because the driver was texting her boyfriend who was in the car behind her. i don't understand people today. what did you all do when there were no cell phones? first, you talked on them. now that's no good – you have to text (which is lazy), and i suppose you can do it in places like churhc, movies, plays, with little or not notice. i am a "baby boomer". i use a cell phone, but only for emergencies. i don't need a phone plastered to my ear or fingers all day long. please get a life – don't take a life because of your irresponsibility....

    July 31, 2009 at 3:48 pm |
  13. Harry

    Going to be interesting how they will catch people in the act... How would they tell whether I was texting vs selecting a song on my iPod?

    July 31, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Gumby

    the fines need to be WAY HIGHER in order to start effectively deterring this stupid, foolish, selfish and assinine behavior/crime.

    perhaps even have offenders spend a night in jail?? THAT might get their attention.

    stupid, selfish, spoiled, "it's all about ME" Americans need to be *SMACKED DOWN HARD* re: talking/texting while driving!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  15. gayle mccauley malden,mass.

    Texting and Tanning beds.....This weeks additions to the most dangerous of actions.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm |
  16. Sandy McIntyre

    Last night I watched a man, in a truck, on a two lane highway texting while his dog was across his lap looking out the window!!! I got out of his way quickly!!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  17. Silvia

    Is about time that something is done about this. Not that the enactment of the law is going to unruffled the feathers of the perennial texters....I has hit by a driver who was texting while driving "on reverse" in a huge parking lot!...
    Personally I have all kinds of blue tooth gizmos in my car and pair them as soon as I get in. AND there is such thing as voice dialing too, but NOoooo, your average driver goes one driving, phone in hand, thinking he/ she is immune

    July 31, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  18. Shilpee

    DWT, one thing I will never do in my life!

    DWM (driving whilst doing make-ups), isn't that dangerous too? I see it all the time.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  19. Joanne Osinkowski Ontario Canada

    As I have said many times, Drivers caught texting when driving should have a 3 month automatic license suspension for first offenders. Any time after that they should lose there license for good. These stiff penalties would deter texting without a doubt.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:42 pm |
  20. Joanne R. Pacicca

    I cannot drive to work or home again without noticing at least half the people are talking on cellphones...generally I look through to the driver because their driving is erratic. There is indeed danger at the edge of town.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  21. Siro

    Dangerous and moronic.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  22. anony

    the problem is catching these ppl...they also have one eye combing for the highway patrol!!!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  23. Gregg

    Whose to say that I'm not holding my phone to text but to get directions from my smartphone GPS

    July 31, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  24. Eric JF Kleijssen

    Over here in Holland it cost you US$ 213 when caught just holding your cellphone while driving. High fines only have effect when the probability of being caught is significant (as it is over here!).

    Driving while texting or calling is almost like (passively) playing the infamous PC Game 'Carmageddon' ... remember?

    July 31, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  25. Sabrina in Las Vegas

    The hands free law passes in July 2008 a.d texting was Jan 2009 for Los Angeles but I remember seeing people doing just what you described.

    Traffic is too dense there to drive 70 in rush hour, even in the valleys.

    They need dictation software for the car/phone so it can write everything down for us.

    Using my last day on Vegas to text or call until I hit that border.

    July 31, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  26. Isabel, Brazil

    That really is very dangerous and is very cool this series of reports
    that AC360 is doing because I thought me it was particularly careful in this direction and yesterday, when I knew that a friend will be father, I decided to send an SMS for congratulates him. In this time came in my mind the right thing to be done and I sent when I stopped.

    Thanks!

    July 31, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  27. cat

    Those crazy sunday drivers

    July 31, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  28. DT

    That title should be OMG that is so irresponsible.

    July 31, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  29. Catherine

    I'll never forget the time I saw a girl texting with both of her hands off the steering in the slow lane of the 5 freeway by Anaheim for 2 miles. I was so scared but intrigued.

    July 31, 2009 at 12:48 pm |