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State law targets texting and driving

More than half of high school seniors admit to activity, CDC study finds

POSTED: June 10, 2012 11:39 p.m.

A teen’s phone buzzes and beeps. “One new message” appears on the screen.

Checking that message, according to distraction.gov, at 55 miles per hour will take that teen’s eyes off the road for 4.4 seconds, or, as the site states, it would be “like driving an entire football field blindfolded.”

But according to a recent Centers for Disease Control study, more than half of the nation’s high school seniors admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

The study, which anonymously polled high schoolers, found that 58 percent of seniors admitted to texting or emailing while driving during the previous month. About 43 percent of juniors admitted to the same.

In 2010, Georgia passed the “Caleb Sorohan Act,” prohibiting texting while driving. Sorohan was killed in a wreck in December of 2009 while texting behind the wheel.

His family has since become advocates against distracted driving.

“Nobody has come up with the magic bullet yet that will solve this problem,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “Unfortunately, when it comes to younger drivers, we have had too many situations where a school has had to mourn the loss of their classmates because they were texting and driving and involved in a crash. It’s happened all too often in Georgia.”

Since the law is fairly new, safety officials say there is not much data on the number of cases.

Blackwood said about one in every four crashes in the state can be attributed to alcohol, and distracted driving has not reached that high — yet.

“I don’t think we’re at that number yet with texting and driving, but unfortunately as more and more young drivers hit the road, it’s the way they communicate,” said Blackwood.

A typical teen will send and receive about 100 text messages a day.

“In our opinion, texting (and) driving is as serious as drinking and driving,” said Blackwood. “We believe that someone who is actively engaged in texting and driving is just as dangerous as someone who is at the .08 blood alcohol content.”

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office also can’t put an exact number on the cases, but says its traffic department has had “in the neighborhood of a couple dozen” issues.

“It is something that traffic enforcement officers are looking for as well as patrol deputies,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “The problem, or difficulty, with enforcing that law is it’s a little bit of a difficult charge to make sometimes because you don’t know if someone is pulling up their phone to simply look at a number, to answer a call, to dial a number, you just don’t know if they’re doing that or if they’re actually texting.”

In Georgia, it is not illegal to make phone calls while driving.

But, Wilbanks said, that shouldn’t be the determining factor of recognizing possible safety issues.

“Our philosophy is that if there is anything you have to do while driving, whether it’s texting or attending to children or anything, it’s always better to pull over for a few seconds and getting back on the road and arriving at your destination safely,” he said. “The consequences of a crash because of taking care of some minor, insignificant task are just not worth the risk.”

Associated Press contributed to this article.


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