The Times West Virginian

Opinion

July 3, 2014

Texting while driving a major and dangerous risk for teen drivers

Sixty percent.

That’s the number of American high school seniors who say they’ve texted behind the wheel.

And when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its biennial survey of risky youth behaviors earlier this year, the percentage of teens who admitted to texting while driving was higher than the number of teens who said they had smoked at least one cigarette in the 30 days before the survey (15.7 percent) and the number that described themselves as sexually active (34 percent).

It’s an alarming statistic, made even more so because of the number of other distractions that can occupy a teen driver’s attention on the road.

Georgia Hatfield, the regional program director for Region 5 of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said teenagers tend to be more preoccupied with a lot of things while they’re driving. That includes cellphones, the radio, other people in the car, putting on makeup, eating or drinking.

And the risks aren’t limited to distractions. She said driving while drowsy or driving in excess of the speed limit are other dangers associated with driving.

“When teens or anybody are speeding, that increases their chances of crashing when they’re passing (other cars) over the speed limit anywhere, whether it’s in a neighborhood or on the interstate,” Hatfield said.

Teen drivers also should realize they fall under the same laws and restrictions as older drivers. In West Virginia, that means they are prohibited from using handheld devices and texting while driving.

A first offense for breaking the rule is a $100 citation. The second offense is a $200 citation. The third offense is a $300 citation and might even include a three-point offense on a driving record.

In this day of instant communication and being constantly connected, we understand the strong temptation to quickly reply to text messages. But is it worth risking your life to find out the latest bit of gossip? Even if the text message contains some crucial information, doesn’t it make sense to safely pull to the side of the road or into a nearby parking lot to respond?

Speeding, chatting with friends in the car, being drowsy — there are too many distractions for teen drivers as it is. Texting behind the wheel shouldn’t be one of them.

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