TERRE HAUTE —
Behind u n car, txtn wile drvng! lol :)
It’s been more than a year since a change to Indiana’s distracted driving law made it unlawful to type, send or read a text message while driving.
But that hasn’t stopped some folks from texting away while they’re behind the wheel.
For example: Detective Julia Dierdorf of the Terre Police Department said she was following a car on 13th Street recently when she saw that car come “centimeters away” from causing a huge chain reaction accident. The driver swerved her vehicle into the oncoming lane; fortunately, no other traffic was there.
Dierdorf pulled over the driver of that car and asked the shaken motorist what was going on.
“I said, you just about caused a six-car accident,” Detective Dierdorf recalled. “She said she was texting while driving. She admitted it, so I wrote the ticket. I probably couldn’t have proved it, but she admitted it.”
That ticket was just one of nine citations written by area police in Vigo County since Jan. 1.
According to the Terre Haute City Court Clerk’s Office, which processes all traffic citations written by all police agencies in Vigo County, THPD officers wrote seven of the distracted driving tickets while Indiana State Police troopers wrote the other two.
In another instance this summer, State Police Sgt. Joe Watts said he pulled his vehicle alongside a southbound vehicle stopped on Third Street at the Locust Street stoplight. Watts said he saw the driver to his right texting on her phone while they were stopped, which is legal while a vehicle is not in motion.
However, when the light turned green, the motorist took off — still texting.
“She didn’t put her phone down,” Watts said. “I rolled my window down and tried to get her attention. Nothing. She just kept driving and texting, all the way up the overpass and down the other side, never looking to the right or the left.”
Watts said the driver had a slide phone that she held with both hands. Her palms were perched on top of the steering wheel to guide the vehicle, while her thumbs were busy punching letters on the keyboard.
When the motorist’s car got to the bottom of the overpass, Watts said, he pulled in behind it and turned on his red lights to make a traffic stop. At first, the driver did not see him, but by the time she stopped, she had put the phone down.
Watts said the woman repeatedly denied that she had been texting while driving, saying that she had been checking voicemail and lighting a cigarette.
“I could see her clearly. There was no question about it,” the veteran trooper said.
And what made the driver’s denial worse, Watts said, was that a 12-year-old boy was in front seat during the texting and the traffic stop.
“I told her, by the way, you’re setting a bad example to be lying in front of a child,” he said. And he wrote the driver a traffic ticket.
The class-C infraction is punishable by up to a $500 fine under state law, but on a first-time offense, it usually amounts to about a $170 fine in Vigo County.
Watts said he has noticed that the law has had some effect on motorists during the past year.
“Mostly when they see our cars, they put the phone down,” he said.
But he has also noticed a lot of people looking down at something inside the car while they are driving.
“You see people looking down, but you never see a phone. Their head goes down-up-down-up, and they’re probably texting. But if I don’t see a phone, I can’t stop them.”
Statewide, more than 400 texting citations have been entered into the state’s electronic citations system between July 1, 2011 — when the law took effect — and Aug. 13, 2012. That number is considered conservatively low, however, since not all communities enter their citations into the electronic system.
A look at ISP numbers statewide from July 2011 through July 2012 shows that troopers wrote 171 tickets for texting while driving, and issued 150 warning tickets, for a total of 321 warnings and citations.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has partnered with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and AT&T to raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.
A statewide campaign to educate teen drivers about the dangers of texting while driving features events in five communities, where students can use a driving simulator to learn firsthand about the consequences of distracted driving. The campaign comes to Terre Haute on Sept. 25, with time and location to be announced.
Zoeller supported the ban on texting while driving that was passed by the Legislature.
“Typing messages is a needless distraction while trying to steer two tons of metal on wheels, and a threat to everyone else on the road,” Zoeller stated in the announcement issued last week on the campaign. “By texting while driving, you endanger yourself and others, so this initiative is not about individual rights but instead the state’s duty to protect the public on our highways. Now that school is back in session, young drivers must recognize there are far worse consequences to texting and driving than being pulled over and getting a ticket — potentially fatal consequences.”
Studies show that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent, at 55 mph, of driving the length of a football field, blind.
For Indiana drivers younger than 18, no use of personal communication devices such as cell phones and pagers is allowed while the vehicle is in motion.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 100,000 crashes per year are linked to drivers reading or sending text messages.
AT&T has launched a campaign to get Americans to pledge not to text while driving, and other wireless providers also have public awareness efforts on the issue. Some smartphone applications are available to disable a cell phone when a vehicle is moving more than 10 mph, and some newer phones come with pre-loaded no-text-and-drive technology already installed.
In April, AT&T conducted a national online survey among 1,200 teenagers age 15 to 19 about their driving and texting habits. The survey found that 97 percent said texting while driving is dangerous, and 75 percent said it was very dangerous.
Only 43 percent of the teens surveyed admitted to texting while driving themselves, but 75 percent of the teens said it is common among their friends to text and drive.
Also, 73 percent of teens admitted to glancing at their phone while stopped at a red light, and 61 percent admitted to glancing at their phone while driving.
Texting ranks as the No. 1 mode of communication among teens, and those between ages 12 and 17 text an average of 60 times per day.
For a look at the AT&T survey about teen driving and texting, go online to www.att.com/Common/about_us/txting_driving/att_teen_survey_executive.pdf.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Statewide campaign to educate teens about dangers of texting while driving comes to Terre Haute on Sept. 25
TERRE HAUTE —
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