Deputy Julie Thobaben summed up the message of a recent program presented to high school students in her concluding remarks.
“We as law enforcement want all of you to get where you’re going, safely,” Thobaben said.
She reminded the students that state law prohibits texting while driving and that a county ordinance prohibits any cellphone use while driving.
The Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department, Westland Insurance and AAA presented a program on the hazards of texting and driving to Waupaca High School students.
The goal of the program was to stress that texting while driving “is one of the most dangerous things you can do,” said WHS Principal Robert Becker.
The March 1 program included a documentary sponsored by AT&T and driving simulators provided by AAA.
The documentary, “The Last Text,” opened with a Missouri state trooper describing a crash scene involving a high school student who was one day away from graduation.
“The first thing I noticed,” the trooper said, “was her cap and gown were still in the car.”
An investigation found that the teen driver had been reading a text message from a friend at the time of the crash. The friend described her guilt as “something that will never go away.”
Another teen who was interviewed for the documentary was responsible for killing a cyclist while driving and texting.
“I sent one stupid, meaningless text, ‘lol,’ and killed a man,” the teen said.
Most of the text messages that were sent just prior to fatal crashes were as simple as “yeah” or “where u at?”
“Is that text message so important that it can’t wait?” Thobaben asked.
While the distraction of texting may only last seconds, it can be enough to cause a driver to drift out of his lane.
The documentary included a video of a professional truck driver who was texting while on the road. As part of a 2009 study of commercial drivers, video cameras were mounted inside of cabs. One camera monitored the driver, while the other monitored the road. The driver is looking at his cellphone and the other camera shows the truck smash into the back of a car that is stopped at a traffic light.
While insurance companies and auto safety experts are concerned about all forms of distractions in a vehicle, ranging from eating a meal to changing the radio station, texting is one of the riskiest driving distractions.
There are three types of distractions: visual, physical and cognitive. Looking at the radio is a visual distraction, while reaching for a cup of coffee is a physical distraction. Speaking on a cellphone is a cognitive distraction.
Texting involves all three types of distractions at the same time.
Texting is also especially popular with young drivers.
While speaking to the students, Thobaben asked, “How many of you have a cellphone?” Nearly every student raised their hands.
According to a December 2010 study by the Neilsen Co., U.S. teens send an average of 3,339 texts each month. The total number of texts sent worldwide now exceeds 5 trillion per year and continues to rise.
A 2006 study of novice drivers found that they were 28 percent more likely to drift into another lane while texting.
The AAA reports that drivers who text tend to look away for longer durations and more frequently. Eyes-off-the-road time increases by up to 400 percent.
“It only takes a second to miss something and you end up hitting another vehicle or a tree,” Thobaben said.
Barb Nelson, an agent with Westland Insurance in Stevens Point, noted that parents can help ensure their children’s safety by installing one of several mobile phone apps that disable or limit cellphone features while driving.
The apps rely on GPS to determine if the cellphone is moving faster than 10 miles per hour.
The most restrictive app, iZUP, defers cellphone calls to voice mail and holds text messages while the vehicle is in motion. It completely disables the phone except to call 911 or one of three other pre-approved numbers.
Another mobile app, tXtblocker, allows parents to set time and location restrictions for texting and other cellphone use.
The CellSafety app disables the cellphone while it is moving and can be set up to block text messages in certain zones, such as school.