Texting drivers still not getting the messageby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — It's been a little more than a year since Minnesota banned texting while driving, It's obvious many drivers haven't received that message -- or they're ignoring it. But safety officials vow they'll be increasingly backing up the law with education and enforcement.
Rachelle Gordon, a student at Hamline University, admits to texting while behind the wheel once in a while.
"If I'm in a rush or have a lot of things on my mind, I'll definitely do it," she said. "But I try to be more conscious about it. I have a pretty good feeling that most, a lot of people do it, even though, like me, they know they shouldn't."
Brieanna Lindquist of Plymouth doesn't need a law to stop her from texting while driving. But she figures she's not like most of her peers.
"Basically, everyone who texts will text and drive, at least at stop lights," she said. "But I wouldn't do it, because I'm afraid I might get in a car crash."
But many drivers aren't so fearful.
"I like to feel I can multitask," said Kristine Brewitz of Stillwater, who figures she can text message while driving, as long as there's no traffic and the road ahead is clear. "There are times when I feel I put myself at greater risk," she said. "But I do feel I still watch the road and look for signs and stuff. There have been a few times where I've been a little bit scared. I've never been in an accident, knock on wood."
Berwitz didn't know her texting is illegal. Nor did her mother, Margit Stromme Berwitz.
"I actually tried to text once and realized after just a few seconds that this is so unsafe, I pulled over on the side of the road and finished it," she said. "And I never did it again because I realized how unsafe it is."
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates texting and other distractions are a factor in at least 15 percent of fatal crashes. Distracted driving crashes have been killing about 80 Minnesotans a year.
The state doesn't have a count of how many people have been pulled over for text messaging in the past year, But Lt. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol insists people are getting stopped and ticketed.
"It can be difficult to determine if someone was texting," he said. "There are just some challenges. But we do issue citations on a regular basis. And that's a message we want people to understand."
There's up to a $300 fine for texting while driving, and growing support for a crackdown on texting while driving.
A Harris Interactive poll last month found about two-thirds of Americans favor restrictions on cell phone use in cars. But an even bigger majority, 80 percent, support an outright ban on text messaging while driving. The group that represents the highway safety offices of all 50 states is calling for a nationwide prohibition, too. Insurance companies are paying more attention to the issue. One study found texters are up to 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
Nationwide Insurance expects to offer discounts for drivers who adopt technology that blocks text messages to them while they're in a moving vehicle. Devices and services that shut down mobile texting are expected to hit the market soon.
Bill Windsor, associate vice president of safety at Nationwide Insurance, says texters often take their eyes off the road for five seconds or longer.
"It's like going the length of a football field when you don't have any clue of what's going on around you," he said. The media is also raising increased attention to the issue.
In the U.S. lately, there's been a steady stream of reports about texters causing fatal accidents. And then there's a searing anti-texting video aimed at British high school students. Snippets posted on the Internet have been viewed more than six million times.
British police say the film is working. They've been inundated with messages from young people saying they'll never text and drive again.
- Morning Edition, 09/07/2009, 8:45 a.m.