In the cocktail mix of distractions car drivers cope with when commuting in their vehicles, sending text messages via cell phone has proven to be the most potent ingredient.
“Texting while driving is becoming a problem,” said University of Miami police officer George Bauxali. “You don’t have to go very far, or drive very long, to see someone with a phone to their ear or see them texting, and there’s no way that person can drive safely.”
According to Bauxali, texting and driving slows drivers’ reaction time by 35 percent. In comparison, driving under the influence of alcohol slows reaction time by 12 percent.
Dr. Rod Wellens, chairman of the department of psychology, attributes this urge to send text messages while driving directly to the need to be in communication with others.
“We’re kind of taught that everybody has to multi-task, and people don’t always realize that they can’t do everything well at one time,” Wellens said.
Texting while driving has been outlawed in 18 states and Washington, D.C. The state of Florida is not included on this list. The other 32 states have taken the matter into their own hands by passing laws banning the act on certain levels. In nine states, it is illegal for novice drivers to send text messages while driving. In 18 states, it is illegal for school bus drivers to text message while school children are present.
Although the Florida government has no law banning text messages, many municipalities within the state have passed laws prohibiting the act. For example, Miami made it illegal to send text messages while operating a motor vehicle in school zones on Sept. 11, 2009.
Much attention has been drawn to this issue after a series of accidents occurred where police determined texting to be the primary cause of the accidents. One of these accidents occurred on Florida Highway 27 when text messaging distracted a truck driver from the road, and he slammed into a young female driver. Since the accident, several bills such as “Heather’s Law,” named after the young woman who was killed, have been introduced to the Florida legislature. None, however, have seen any forward action.
According to the Department of Transportation, 16 percent of all fatal accidents in the U.S. were due to distracted driving. In Miami-Dade county, 30 percent of accidents are attributed to distracted driving.
Several UM students have experienced the dangers of texting while driving firsthand and agree that the ban is a sound solution.
“I’ve been walking through the Ponce parking garage and I kind of fear for my life sometimes,” said junior Kristin Gorney. “People come driving through there so fast and when they’re not even looking where they’re going it’s even worse.”
Currently, House Bill 41 is under review after being proposed by Rep. Doug Holder of Sarasota to outlaw texting while driving all over the state of Florida. The bill states that the operation of a moving motor vehicle while reading, manually writing or typing or sending messages on electronic wireless devices will be prohibited. If passed, the bill will hit drivers with fines upwards of $100 if caught committing the offense.
Officer Bauxali views the issue as something that definitely needs to be addressed and mixing the two behaviors is never a good idea.
“Driving is something that takes 100-percent concentration at all times,” he said. “When you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, you have to be concentrating on driving and nothing else.”