Police: Texting Not Only Distraction Behind Wheel

By DANIEL JONES South Bend Tribune | May 16, 2013

Kristy Robinson admits she is more likely to text at a stoplight when she’s running late.

“And I’m always late,” she adds.

driving while textingBut the 32-year-old South Bend resident isn’t the only one who finds it tempting to text behind the wheel. According to a survey conducted by ResearchNow for AT&T, 49 percent of commuters said they send text messages while driving. Forty-three percent of teenagers admitted to texting while driving.

Robinson says she used to text not only at stoplights, but also while driving. She tapered off from that when a close friend “lectured” her on the dangers and persuaded her to stop.

Texting and driving is illegal in both Indiana and Michigan, but according to St. Joseph County police Sgt. Bill Redman, texting and driving laws can be difficult to enforce.

In St. Joseph County, a first offense yields a $50 ticket plus court costs, and a second ticket is $100 plus court costs, but Redman told the South Bend Tribune he doesn’t think many tickets have been given.

If a crash results in “serious bodily injury” or death, the driver’s phone is routinely checked for text messaging usage, Redman says, but in minor accidents drivers are not always forthcoming about their texting.

“Oftentimes they’re not going to be upfront with us about that information,” Redman says, adding that some feel embarrassed or afraid of legal consequences.

One motorist who did admit to texting and driving was a 21-year-old whose van, traveling 60 mph, rear-ended an Amish buggy in Decatur, Ind., a year ago, killing a 3-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy. (A grand jury in April decided not to charge the motorist.)

Law enforcement officers said from the beginning that texting laws would be difficult to enforce, according to Redman, in part because Indiana’s laws don’t encompass other types of distractions on mobile phones.

“It’s not just texting while driving — it’s all social media,” he says. “It’s a big concern, because there’s so much technology in the palm of your hand.”

Because of this, a lot of states have gone to “hands-free” laws, prohibiting any cellphone usage that involves holding the phone.

Kristy Robinson says nowadays if she does send a text message while on the go, she uses voice-to-text technology.

But a new study by the Texas Transportation Institute suggested it is no safer to send texts using a voice-to-text app while driving than it is to send texts manually, The Associated Press reported last week. Drivers’ reaction time using either texting method was about twice as long as not texting at all, according to test results.

That news won’t surprise Bill Wagner, owner of Frick’s Driving Education in Mishawaka, who doesn’t think hands-free methods of texting such as Bluetooth devices are safe while driving, despite his students’ protests.

“I say, ‘Where is your focus while driving?’ They say, ‘My message,”‘ Wagner says. “When your mind is off your driving, that’s when you’re asking for trouble.”

Texting while driving is addressed four or five times during Wagner’s curriculum, and he reminds students that hundreds of thousands of accidents occur each year in the United States because of cellphones.

He finishes his course with four videos featuring teenagers who crashed as a result of texting on the road or were texting someone who had an accident.

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