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RAMBLIN' MAN: Addiction to texting an increasing road hazard

August 6, 2013 Updated: August 6, 2013 at 5:41 am

In July, a 22-year-old hit a parked pickup and a motorcycle and rolled his Jeep Wrangler while texting on his cell phone behind the wheel.

He was lucky. He wasn't hurt.

He got a ticket for careless driving.

Texting and driving is the equivalent of putting a zombie behind the steering wheel.

The glossed over eyes, slowed reaction times, increased odds of a crash.

Knowing as we do the dangers, and I count myself among the evildoers, why do we text and drive?

It's like walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls and posting on Facebook.

You can get really, really wet.

Texting drivers in Colorado Springs can be ticketed, said Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Police Department.

In fact, it's illegal statewide.

Often, though, the citation for texting is "subsequent to a car crash or in conjunction with a serious traffic charge such as careless driving," Miller said.

Therein lies the problem with texting.

Most often texters behind the wheel are nabbed after causing an wreck, running a red light or some other infraction caused by the texting.

Catching a driver in mid-text is difficult, despite how common texting and driving has become.

There are two categories of distracted driving in this high tech age, analog and digital.

Analog is when you eat a Big Mac while driving, the lettuce and sauce leaking out onto your T-shirt.

Digital is all the high tech stuff. Texting, Facebook, talking on your cell phone, watching video, even using your GPS.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates the average text message takes your eyes off the road for almost five seconds. That's comparable to driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour, blind, the department says.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 31 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 have texted while driving in the past month.

A study by the University of Kansas of about 400 young adults found that more than 95 percent admitted to texting and driving.

Not good.

The National Safety Council estimates about 28 percent of car crashes are caused by using a phone.

According to a just-released, three-month study by the National Coalition for Safer Roads and FocusDriven, 12 percent of red-light violations were caused by distracted driving at 118 intersections in 19 communities.

Nationwide, that translates into more than 7.3 million red-light violations caused by distracted driving, the groups said.

It's "a pervasive threat on our roadways, particularly when it comes to cell phone use while driving," the study says. "According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use is a factor in 21 percent of crashes, and drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a car crash."

Even the companies that make the cell phones get it. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile have done ad campaigns against texting while driving. One, called "It Can Wait," played nationally on television and radio.

AT&T even has an app that lets texters know you will get back to them later because, well, you are driving.

To twist a Nike phrase, just don't do it.

"Based on all the research and studies conducted, texting and driving is extremely dangerous and can result in deadly consequences," Miller says.

There seems to be a psychological need to answer the cell phone when it rings or beeps to signal a text.

We can't seem to wait.

"People cannot let the cell phone sit on the seat of the car," said Maile Gray, head of Drive Smart Colorado. "When that text goes off, they feel they have to grab it immediately and read it, or the text is going do disappear. I think we're all probably guilty of that. I've done it."

And it's not just teenagers, "though people are very, very quick to blame teens."

Adults, studies how, make up about half of all texters behind the wheel.

Some states have banned cell phone use by drivers. Others have huge fines.

And yet it continues.

In Colorado, at least 50 deaths a year are caused by distracted driving, a big chunk of which is texting, the department of transportation says.

Education and enforcement together works, Gray says.

But the biggest change needs to be broader.

"We have created this society of being connected constantly," Gray says.

"People do listen, but I'm telling you, it's a cultural shift that we have to really make."

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