April is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and on Thursday Sheriff Ronnie Lawson used that recognition as an opportunity to educate the county’s driving age high school students about the dangers of texting and driving.
HCSO Sgt. Scott Alley gave a morning presentation at Volunteer High School and then addressed Cherokee High School students beginning around 2 p.m. As one might expect from a theater full of high school students less than an hour from the end of the school day, initially there was a bit of chatter and restlessness from the Cherokee group.
But, during a 10-minute film about lives that have been lost and shattered due to texting and driving, the auditorium fell dead silent. That is, except for the occasional sniffle brought on by the heart-wrenching stories.
One girl in the video told about how her sister was killed while driving and reading a text she’d sent. A boy told about the sorrow and regret he has felt since hitting and killing a man on a bicycle while texting and driving. A boy talks about dying and being revived three times, and his subsequent tough road to recovery because he was a passenger in a car driven by a person who wrecked while texting. A mother and friends hold a tearful 19th birthday party for a girl who died while being texted directions from a boy she was going to meet.
Alley told students that texting not only takes their eyes off the road and their hands off the steering wheel, it takes their mind off of driving.
“When you’re talking on the phone or texting, that alone uses 37 percent of your brain,” Alley told students. “That’s 37 percent that you’re not using to concentrate on driving.”
Writing or reading a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph that’s like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
If you text behind the wheel you’re 20 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-distracted d r i v e r. In 2010, 3,092 people were killed in the U.S. and another 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.
As for teen drivers, 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.
“Right now, in the state of Tennessee, the driver is not allowed to text while the vehicle is in motion,” Alley said. “That’s for adults and everybody. No one is allowed to send, receive or read a text message in any way, shape or form while driving. Right now if you’re under the age of 18 you can’t even talk on your cell phone if you’re driving.”