Students commit to W8 2 TXT

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 05:26 PM

Texting while driving surpassed driving while impaired as the leading cause of car accidents and fatalities among teenage drivers.

In the state of North Carolina, it is illegal to text while driving, though it is still a problem and the law is difficult to enforce. Nationally, car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenage drivers.

Subway restaurants and the North Carolina Highway Patrol have partnered to launch the “W8 2 TXT” campaign, which urges drivers to wait to send text messages until they have stopped driving. 

Earlier this month, the campaign came to Forest Hills High School in Marshville, where students signed a banner pledging not to text and heard from another Union County Public Schools student, Weddington High School Senior Trey Cooke, about losing his best friend in a 2011 car collision.

“(His talk) was very powerful for our students,” Principal Kevin Plue said.

He said the students were very attentive during the program and all of them signed a pledge not to text.

“I thought the overall attitude towards the program was very positive and the kids were very well-behaved...they listened attentively,” Plus said.   

“Here in North Carolina, we’re ranked number four

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in the U.S. for car crashes,” John Burgin, information officer with the N.C. Highway Patrol, said. 

Burgin said they have an average of 1,500 a year and lost anywhere from 100 to 140 teenagers a year. He added that 73 percent of teenage crashes and fatalities come from them running off the road. 

“There’s really only one reason for them running off the road...if you run off the road, it’s simply because you’re not paying attention,” Burgin said. He added that someone could also be going around a turn too quickly. 

Burgin recalled an accident a few months ago where the driver was texting and had the passenger hold the steering wheel while she texted. He said it was a pretty bad wreck. 

“If you are traveling 55 miles per hour and you look down to read a text message, on average the text message takes 4.2 seconds to read...at 55 miles per hour, you travel the length of a football field,” Burgin said. 

That reaction time is similar to the reaction time of a driver with a .08 blood alcohol level. 

“(Distracted driving) is actually more dangerous than drinking and driving,” Burgin said. “Both are bad...but statistic (are showing) that an impaired driver is at least looking at the road.” 

There is a law banning texting and driving, but Burgin said it is hard to enforce. In order to ticket someone, he has to be next to them, see them using their phone and verify that they are texting and not dialing or using another application. By the time they see him or any marked law enforcement vehicle, they usually put their phones down. 

Since the law was passed in 2010, 1,800 state troopers have written 2,300 tickets for texting and driving. 

“Those aren’t good numbers for us...but it’s such a hard law to enforce,” Burgin said. 

Burgin thinks the law will have to change to using a hands-free device in order to be effective. 

“We all use the phone going down the road and it’s just a distraction,” Burgin said. “Until they get it out of their hands, we’re going to have wrecks.” 

In addition to the law, law enforcement and organizations like Subway are using public service announcements to try to reach teenagers. They sign pledges or hand out wristbands or t-shirts. 

“It’s hard to say how seriously they take (the pledges),” Burgin said. “We’re hoping they take them very seriously.”