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Texting While Driving is Dangerous; Should it be Illegal?

If you like to text while you drive, here's a word of advice: Stop!

At least that's what a first-ever study of the risks of texting while driving says. The surprising results indicate that when drivers are texting, their risk of getting into a crash is a whopping 23 times greater than when not texting. That far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.

The entire study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will be released tomorrow. But The New York Times has a preview on its Web site. The study involved putting cameras in the cabs of long-haul trucks for 18 months, and analyzing the video. The study says behavior by truckers is very similar to everyday drivers.

Perhaps the most disturbing statistic is that in the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.

Compared with other sources of driver distraction, “texting is in its own universe of risk,” said Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study at the institute.

Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech institute, said the study’s message was clear: “You should never do this. It should be illegal.”

Only 14 states currently ban texting while driving. Legislators in some states have rejected such rules, while lawmakers in other states say they need more data to determine whether to ban it. Should this study will be the one that gets them moving?

In another study due to be released tomorrow, a survey by The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 95% of drivers say texting while driving is unacceptable. Yet 21% still do it.

22-year-old Robert Smith is of one them. “It’s convenient,” he told the Times. “I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs.”

Smith does acknowledge the risks. "(Sometimes) I’ll look up and realize there’s a car sitting there and swerve around it. I’m pretty sure that someday it’s going to come back to bite me.”


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