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Driving while texting is number one teenage road killer; a major new effort is underway to increase awareness.

by Steve Schwartz on

If you have teenagers who drive, or if your kids drive with teenagers, here are some facts and statistics you should sit down and discuss with them.

What is the leading cause of death among young drivers and passengers of teenage drivers? No, it's not drinking and driving. No, it's not speed.  The leading cause of death teenage deaths on the road is texting while driving.

Texting while driving has now overtaken drunk driving as the number one cause of death among young drivers in the U.S., new research has found. Researchers at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York found that more than 300,000 teens are injured and more than 3,000 die each year as a result of sending SMS messages while behind the wheel.

Here are some statistics that are chilling:

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation says that 3,331 people were killed by distracted driving in 2011, while 3,267 were killed in 2010. Some 300,000 injuries nationwide are blamed on distracted driving. By comparison, 282,000 are injured and 2,700 teenagers are killed as a result of drunk driving.
  • A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get in a crash than those who pay attention to the road.
  • A survey by AT&T shows that texting and driving is on the rise with 49 percent of commuters admitting they text while driving, and half of those admitting it is a habit.

Another study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, and reported in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that among high school students 16 and older, 45 percent of the 8,100 teens surveyed had texted or emailed while driving during the preceding 30 days.

The simple fact is texting while driving is against the law in 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. An additional six states prohibit text messaging by "novice drivers" (almost all include teens in this definition). In all but two of those states the laws call for "primary enforcement," meaning you can be stopped and charged if observed texting.

An aside - texting by school bus drivers is unlawful in only three states.

You are going to be hearing a lot more about this in the coming days. In an unusual joint effort from what are always bitter rivals, the four major wireless carriers are joining in a massive ad campaign that aims to lower instances of texting while driving in the U.S.

Started by AT&T, the multi-million dollar “It Can Wait” campaign now is supported by Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and more than 200 other organizations. You will be seeing TV ads and hearing radio ads as well as ads on social media throughout the summer. You will also see displays in many retail stores - especially those that cater to younger customers.

"Awareness of the dangers of texting and driving has increased, but people are still doing it," AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said. "With this expanded effort, we hope to change behavior.”

"Mobile technology connects us in many cool ways, but adults and teens need to put it on hold while behind the wheel," T-Mobile President and CEO John Legere said. "Knowing the risks is not enough. By simply putting the phone down, thousands of tragedies can be prevented every year. It’s time to end texting while driving — for good."

“It Can Wait” focuses on teen drivers and asks them to take a pledge against texting while behind the wheel. The carriers have also set up a web site: www.itcanwait.com where people can get information and read stories about people whose lives have been affected by texting drivers.

Also, AT&T has released a new app called "Drive Mode," which automatically responds to text messages when the recipient is on the road telling senders you're driving and will get back to them later.

Another source of information is the government website: www.distraction.gov

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