Target: those who text and drive
By Linda Girardi For The Courier-News With Staff Reports September 19, 2012 9:20PM
Illinois Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (left) and Illinois Senator Linda Holmes urge drivers to promise not to text while driving during a "No Text on Board Pledge Day" at the AT&T store on East New York Street in Aurora on Wednesday, September 19, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Texting by the numbers
So far in 2012:
Aurora police have issued 41 tickets and 16 warnings for texting while driving.
Geneva police have issued a combined 20 tickets or warnings. Geneva police also have issued 53 tickets or warnings for use of a cellphone in a school or construction zone.
According to studies by AT&T and other recent research:
Half of all teenagers send between 21 and 70 text messages a day.
Teens expect a reply to a text message within five minutes.
43 percent of young people admit to texting while driving, even though 97 percent of them know it is dangerous.
Texting takes a person’s eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds.
Those who do text and drive are 23 times more likely to be involved in a traffic crash.
For information on texting and driving, visit www.itcanwait.com.
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:57PM
State Sen. Linda Holmes was in an AT&T store in Aurora in Wednesday when she took a moment to respond to a text message on her phone.
“This is my life. I am not driving,” Holmes said.
Holmes, D-Aurora, and state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, partnered with wireless provider AT&T on Wednesday to help raise public awareness about the dangers of text messaging behind the driver’s wheel.
AT&T worked through the Illinois Municipal League in receiving the endorsement from area communities that adopted proclamations declaring Wednesday as “No Text on Board” day.
Holmes said lawmakers have passed legislation that prohibits texting while driving, but they are constantly addressing problems associated with distracted driving. “It is difficult for us who make the drive to and from Springfield,” Holmes said. “I have learned to use my head phone.”
Chapa LaVia said it is important to support the initiative as a lawmaker and as a mother of an almost-teen driver. “My daughter will nudge me when I am texting,” she said.
Their concerns are justified, according to statistics showing traffic deaths up 9 percent in Illinois this year. And distracted driving such as texting is at least partly to blame, officials have said.
Chapa LaVia said that beyond Wednesday’s initiative, it is important to continue to partner with AT&T on how to translate the dangers of texting and driving into the curriculum in the state of Illinois, especially in driver education.
Driver ed efforts
And it is being emphasized in local classes, according to instructors.
“I don’t care what you do — as technology evolves and texting gets easier, we all push that,” said Jeff Bral, Bartlett High School’s divisional head of driver’s education, physical education and health, as well as athletics director, said in an interview earlier this summer.
“Every day I pick up the paper, and there’s a story about a kid being in an accident or killed. It’s probably because of texting.”
In fact, Bral said, about 65 percent of males admit to texting while driving.
That’s why, he said, Bartlett High School is pushing back. This spring, it finished second among schools in Chicago’s collar counties in collecting pledges against texting and driving, part of AT&T’s nationwide “It Can Wait” campaign. That earned the school $1,000 for its after-school programs.
And it’s not just Bartlett. H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin took third place in that campaign. Larkin High School in Elgin also was awarded $1,000 in a raffle for all schools that viewed AT&T’s 10–minute “It Can Wait” documentary, which tells the stories of four teenagers whose lives were impacted by the decision to text while driving.
AT&T Illinois spokesperson Valerie Bruggeman said text messaging-related auto crashes have become an epidemic, with the more than 100,000 collisions nationwide each year, according to the National Safety Council.
A recent study found those who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash. And according to 77 percent of teens in an AT&T survey, adults tell kids not text or email while driving — yet adults do it themselves “all the time.”
“Taking your eyes off the road is like driving blind-folded down a football field,” Bruggeman said.
She said there is a free AT&T drive mode application that is downloadable on any Android device that automatically responds with a text that the person is driving and unable to get back to them.
There were no statistics immediately available on whether texting and driving has caused many crashes in Elgin. But police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault noted that one doesn’t have to think back very far to remember some dire results from distracted driving in general.
During rush hour on Sept. 11, a 27-year-old Niles woman was driving along Route 31 near the I-90 interchange in Elgin when her car crossed the center line and crashed head-on into an oncoming car, police said. Both she and two men in the other car were severely injured.
The female driver “said she had dropped her eyeglasses and was looking down to pick them up” when she crossed the center line, Theriault said.
“Texting while driving is a significant issue,” Theriault said. “But dialing a phone can be almost as much a distraction as texting, because there, too, you have to look down and away from the road.”
The Elgin commander was unsure how many, if any, tickets Elgin police have written for distracted driving or texting while driving. “That kind of ticket tends to get issued only after an accident has occurred,” he said.
The Aurora Police Department joined in Wednesday’s educational initiative. Cmdr. Kristen Ziman said statistics are not always effective because people generally do not think of becoming a statistic.
But she said Aurora police do conduct traffic details looking for distracted drivers. “Some drivers will admit to texting, and some people will deny it with the phone beside them,” she said.
Ziman said she finds it more effective to appeal to people emotionally and logically by reminding them of the potential deadly consequences.
“If we can’t appeal to the emotion, logic and statistics that you may kill or hurt someone while text messaging, we have to fall on the rule of the law where you will be issued a citation to save lives,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful way to communicate, but not when you are operating a piece of machinery that is 4,500 pounds and traveling at roughly 40 miles an hour.”
Staff writers Dave Gathman
and Emily Miller contributed
to this report.