Driving while texting remains a "serious issue" on the nation's roadways, transportation officials said Monday, days after a Boston-area trolley operator failed to see a red light while reportedly sending his girlfriend a text message and smashed into the back of another trolley, injuring 50 people.
For every two seconds a driver's eyes are off the road, a motorist is twice as likely to be involved in a crash, said Troy Green, national spokesman for AAA.
"Texting while driving ... requires your full attention and leaves no room for distraction," Green said. "You'd have to be foolish at best and delusional at worst to think you can send and receive text messages while operating a motor vehicle effectively and safely....
We believe that's something that should be banned."
Texting and cell phone use have been blamed for numerous deadly crashes in the past few years, including:
Nov. 20, 2008: Stephanie Phelps, 16, and her 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Pulsifer, were killed when the young mother, who was talking her cell phone, ran a red light and crashed into cement truck in Amarillo, Texas.
Aug. 6, 2008: Janet Indermuehle, 48, was reportedly speeding and using her cell phone while driving as she lost control of her car and crashed near Mount Horeb, Wis. Indermuehle, her 15-year-old son Daniel, and a 14-year-old passenger, Tiffany Kastner, were killed in the wreck.
Jan. 3, 2008: Stephanie Phillips, 37, and Heather Hurd, 26, were killed when a trucker reportedly distracted by text-messaging on his cell phone crashed into their car along U.S. 27 in Florida.
Aug. 13, 2007: Ashley D. Miller, 18, of Glendale, Ariz., and Stacey Stubbs, 40, of Chino Valley, Ariz., die in a crash after Miller reportedly drifted across the center line because she was text-messaging on her cell phone.
June 28, 2007: Text messages were sent and received on the cell phone of Bailey Goodman, 17, moments before her sport-utility vehicle slammed head-on into a truck, killing her and four other recent high school graduates in upstate New York.
April 26, 2007: Eight people were killed when a semi trailer driven by Leonardo Cooksey, 32, slammed into stopped traffic on the Indiana Toll Road. Cooksey, of Mount Prospect, Ill., told state police that he was distracted when his cell phone beeped, indicating the battery was low.
March 18, 2007: Sela Anne Kalama, 19, was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter after she reportedly drove off the end of a road and into the Elwha River in Washington. Vanna Francis, 17, and Ronnie Scroggins, 15, were killed in the crash. Kalama and four others swam to shore and suffered only minor injuries.
Dec. 20, 2006: Brittanie Montgomery, a 19-year-old dancer for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets, died in a crash in Oklahoma City while reportedly using her cell phone as she drove to practice.
June 18, 2006: Karyn "Nikki" Cordell, 22, and her unborn child die in a crash in Deerfield Township, Ohio. Cordell's 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier was slammed head-on by a 2004 Ford Explorer driven by 16-year-old Alexander Manocchio, who was allegedly reaching for a ringing cell phone at the time of the wreck.
May 29, 2006: Jessalyn Sanders, 6, was struck and killed by a truck as she crossed a street near her home in Tulsa, Okla. The driver of the truck, Justin Pearsall, reportedly told police he had reached down to answer his cell phone and did not see the girl.
No Laws in Most States
Ten states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit texting while driving, with laws in Virginia and Arkansas to take effect later this year — and legislation is being considered in Rhode Island. Some major U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Detroit and Phoenix, have instituted a ban.
Another 10 states prohibit novice drivers from text-messaging. But the majority of states have no laws that ban sending text messages from behind the wheel.
"It's a little bit like speeding; everyone at some point has used their cell phone while driving," said Jonathan Adkins, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association. "But the bottom line is texting and operating any kind of vehicle is very dangerous. It takes your mind from the task at hand. It's a common-sense issue."
Driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event.
Despite those daunting statistics, Adkins said many drivers believe they'll steer clear of any trouble on the road.
"The sense is, 'I'm able to do many things at once,'" Adkins said. "People feel like if all they're focusing on is driving, then they're wasting their time. But people forget that you've got to be able to react to the other driver."
Recent efforts to highlight the dangers of texting while driving include a billboard in Byron Township, Wyo., created by a 17-year-old girl whose classmate was killed in a July 2007 crash. The billboard, created by Ally Steffes, displays the 17-year-old behind the wheel with a phone to her ear and a simple message: "Buckle Up … Hang Up … Heads Up … It all adds up!"