Colorado drivers know risk of texting but still do it
The Denver Post
Drivers continue to read and send text messages while at the wheel, even though they know it’s dangerous, according to survey results released this week by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents said they thought text messaging or e-mailing while driving is a “very serious threat to their safety,” just 3 percentage points less than the 90 percent who said drinking and driving is a serious threat, according to the national survey.
At the same time, 21 percent admitted to texting while driving at least once in the past month, and more than 66 percent said they have talked on the phone while driving.
In an attempt to eliminate the practice, a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday would eliminate 25 percent of federal highway money for states that do not ban the activity. On Dec. 1, Colorado will join 14 other states that outlaw texting while driving. For drivers younger than 18, using a cellphone in any way while driving will be banned in Colorado.
But if the threat of a fatal crash isn’t enough to get a driver to put down the phone and focus, will a ticket really be enough to alter behavior?
“It seems there is a difference between people intellectually understanding that these behaviors pose a risk to their safety and people really believing it in their gut,” said Peter Kissinger, the president of the AAA Foundation. “It’s kind of like exercise, where everyone understands that you should stay active to be healthy, but does that mean everybody runs out tomorrow and exercises? No.”
For Brendon Morrison, 18, of Lakewood even a traffic accident wasn’t enough to make him stop texting.
Two years ago, Morrison was texting while driving, ran a red light and hit another car. No one was injured, but the other car was totaled and Morrison’s insurance rates skyrocketed.
Although he said he tries to text and drive less, Morrison still does it.
“It’s more like I’ll read it, and then if it’s important I’ll text back,” he said.
Drivers text at stops
Examples of messages Morrison said were important enough to send while driving include: “What do you want to do tonight?” and “I love you” to his girlfriend, Brittany Quinlan, 19.
Quinlan said she used to text while driving when she had a BlackBerry, because she could type its keys without looking down. Now that she has a touch phone, she reserves her texting for times when she’s stopped at traffic lights.
Perla Rodriguez, 25, also said she texts only while stopped at a red light.
“I’ll just send something quick, like, ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes,’ ” she said. “I’ll read messages and occasionally respond while driving, but I try not to.”
AAA’s Kissinger said that although it is safer to text while stopped at a red light, for many drivers the temptation is too great to not continue once the light turns green.
“I’d rather people go cold turkey,” he said. “Because once traffic starts again, are you really going to wait for the next stop light to finish your message?”
Although drivers might think they can quickly look away from the road to read or send a message, a study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting drivers had their eyes off the road for longer than drivers who were dialing or talking on a cellphone.
On average, texting drivers looked away from the road for 4.6 seconds over a 6-second interval. In that time, a car going 55 mph can travel the length of a football field.
Dangers a deterrent?
The study found that long-haul truck drivers were 23 times as likely to have a collision when texting as non-distracted drivers. The collision risk for drivers dialing a cellphone was 2.8 times as high as non-distracted drivers, while for drivers talking on the phone it was 1.3 times as high.
But even the revelation of these risks may not be enough of a deterrence, Kissinger said.
“This is clearly a situation of the perceived benefits of talking or texting while driving, like being connected to other people, outweigh the perceived risks of being in a traffic crash,” he said.
The perceived benefits will likely always be greater for Morrison, who said that neither the potential dangers nor Colorado’s ban will stop him and many other drivers.
“I understand that a lot of people are idiots, like I was,” he said. “But sometimes you’ll get a very important phone call, like if someone died or you need to tell your boss that you’ll be late. In instances like that, those are just times when you need to do it.”