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Perkins police Lt. A.L. Matthews sees it every day. Spotting his police cruiser, the driver quickly hides the offending object. Not that they have to because the activity is not illegal. It is only dangerous. And it is believed to contribute to thousands of accidents each year.
As if talking on the phone weren’t distracting enough, a poll of 16- and 17-year-olds conducted by AAA in July 2007 found that nearly half — 46 percent — of respondents sent text messages while behind the wheel. That squares with Matthews’ experiences on the road. He said too many teenage drivers make the poor choice of multitasking while in the driver’s seat.
“Get home first or pull over to the side of the road,” Matthews said. There is no way of telling how many people do it or how many times it plays a role in accidents. Few people would admit their eyes were not on the road, but on the keyboard of their cell phone, punching in letters when they should have been paying attention, Matthews said.
“It’s hard to prove, because once they shut their cell phone, we can’t take it from them without a warrant to get that information,” he said. But he suspects that texting while driving leads to many rear-end collisions and other minor accidents in the area. Authorities say they wish they could do more to prevent such accidents, but unless the drivers are breaking some other law, such as drifting past the center line, officers’ hands are tied.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Knoll has seen it all — drivers shaving, applying makeup and eating with both hands. As much as anything, he sees drivers busy on their phones.
But text messaging is even more dangerous than just talking on the phone — something Knoll said is pretty dangerous, to begin with.
“At least talking on the cell phone, you can keep your eyes on the road. With texting, you’re looking at your keyboard,” he said. Recommended following distance is about 2 seconds behind a vehicle. Reaction time is usually three-fourths of a second under the best of circumstances, Knoll said. “Once your eyes are taken off the road for a split second, you increase that reaction time,” he said.
While younger drivers are traditionally the more ferocious texters, with the growing popularity of Blackberrys and iPhones, Generation Y-ers on up is getting into the act. Knoll said he’s watched as businessmen sent e-mails while driving with passengers in their car.
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