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More Death By Texting

David Kiley
08/23/2011

The evidence keeps mounting that texting while driving is too often destructive and deadly.
A fatal crash near Omaha, Nebraska in mid-July is being blamed on a driver texting while driving in the seconds prior to the crash.
The crash on Old Lincoln Highway that killed 19-year-old Elizabeth Chadwick and 18-year-old Jessica Weinfurter has been blamed by the Pottawattamie County Sherrif´s office on texting while driving.
The sherrif told WOWT.com, the website for one of Omaha´s top local TV stations, that while the victims blood showed small trace amounts of marijuana, there was no doubt that the driver who caused the accident was in the middle of texting when the incident took place.
North Carolina
In Asheville, North Carolina, a man entered a guilty plea last month admitting that he was texting behind the wheel when he struck and killed a motorcyclist. Highway officials said they believe it is the first case of its kind to wind its way through the state courts since North Carolina´s texting ban law was passed in 2009.
Andrew James Watkins, 25, of Mecklenburg County, NC pleaded to misdemeanor "death by vehicle" in the August 2010 death of 39-year-old Joel Severson.
Watkins veered out of his lane and, while distracted, struck Severson´s motorcycle. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 200 hours of community service and fined $1,000 plus court costs. Watkins also agreed not to use or possess a cell phone while driving.
A statewide ban on texting while driving was passed by the North Caroloina legislature in 2009. Talking on cell phones is legal for North Carolina drivers above the age of 18.
Michigan
Earlier this year, A Lapeer, Michigan man, 41-year old Jerry Joseph, who police say caused a fatal crash while texting and driving, was sentenced to just one month in jail and 12 months of probation. It was the first case of its kind in Michigan since the state passed a ban on texting while driving in August 2010.
Forty-one-year old Jerry Joseph pleaded guilty in April to a moving violation causing the death last November of 78-year-old Irene Paquin of Attica Township, Mich. Paquin, a grandmother, was the passenger in the car driven by her 81-year-old husband Paul. The Paquins were broadsided by Joseph´s car.
Some lawmakers say the penalties under texting-while-driving laws aren´t harsh enough, and need to be changed. Penalties for drunk drivers who cause a fatality are much harsher -- some states include a four-year minimum prison sentence and a permanent driver´s license suspension.
Awareness of the dangers of texting-while-driving seem to be climbing, yet full appreciation of the problem has a long way to go. While most drivers see the moral hazard of driving while intoxicated, too few still think that checking email or answering a text while operating a motor vehicle falls into the same category.
Washington State
Though not, fatal, another accident was recorded this month and attributed to texting while driving.
Hoquiam, Washington police say a man who was texting while driving crashed into a parked car, then into a house.
A 23-year old man slammed slammed his SUV into a parked Toyota Yaris after careening across two front yards. After hitting the car, the SUV hit the side of a house, causing extensive structural damage to the home. The man driving the SUV admitted to police that he was texting while driving.
It could have been much worse, and fatal. The driver of the Yaris, a 30-year old woman, told police officers she had just parked her car and walked into her parents´ house to retrieve her children when her car was hit.
Despite plenty of academic research demonstrating that texting while driving can be just as dangerous, or more so, as drinking and driving, a recent poll shows that most teens, for example, simply don´t think that´s the case. State Farm sponsored a poll conducted by Harris Interactive last Fall in which 14- to 17-year-olds were asked whether they thought they would die one day if they regularly text and drive. Only 35 percent strongly agreed with that statement. Meantime, 55 percent of teens think that drinking and driving could prove deadly.
Accident statistics meanwhile show that texting and driving is about three or four times more dangerous than operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs when operating a motor vehicle.

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