Jul/Aug
2015

Vexed by Texts: A Cautionary Tale

Written by By C.G. Worrell
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You’re cruising down Broadway when your cell phone bleeps with a new text. Your brain starts racing: Did Billy forget his lunch? Does Sally need a ride? Or is it a juicy tidbit from Cousin Marge? You wait until the next red light before grabbing the phone. That’s good enough, right?

Wrong. Under Minnesota’s “No Texting” law, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and emails, as well as access the web, while the vehicle is in motion or part of traffic—this includes sitting at a red light or stopped in traffic. 

 

The Restless Road

Anything that takes your attention away from the road falls under the umbrella of distracted driving. This includes texting, tuning the radio, gobbling hamburgers, etc. Between 2009 and 2013, distracted driving was the main factor behind 25 percent of reported crashes in Minnesota, resulting in approximately 86,000 crashes, 1,750 serious injuries and 350 fatalities. In 2012, distraction was a contributing factor in 20 percent of traffic-related deaths. In 2013 that figure jumped to 25 percent. By comparison, alcohol rated 30 percent.

Unfortunately, people under the age of 30 accounted for a third of Minnesota traffic fatalities, a tragedy the family of Deej Logan of Byron understands all too well.

Gone Too Soon

In September 2012, 17-year-old Deej was texting while driving when her car crashed into a bus. She lost consciousness and died hours later. “Our family has been incomplete since leaving the hospital,” says her mother, Megan Logan. “Deej loved nothing more than wearing bright tights and a tutu, rollerblading with friends and singing Lady Antebellum—loud. We all miss her joyful spirit and infectious laughter.”

Deej’s parents joined forces with Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths program to speak out against texting and driving. “Live by example and put the phone away,” Megan implores. “Please don’t take a life for a few words that can wait. My daughter was minutes from home when she crashed. Her text wasn’t that important; it could have waited. And she’d be here with us today.”

“No family should have to endure a tragedy like this,” says Megan. “If sharing Deej’s story saves lives, then that eases our pain.” 

Toward Zero Deaths (TZD)  

Kristine Hernandez is the program coordinator for TZD—Minnesota’s traffic safety initiative established in 2003. “Our goal is to create a culture of safe driving by integrating the ‘4 Es:’ Education, law Enforcement, Emergency medical and trauma response and Engineering for safer roads,” she explains. 

“We stage mock crashes at local high schools to raise driver safety awareness. TZD recently partnered with AT&T for the It Can Wait campaign: a no-texting-and-driving competition between 14 schools and businesses. We accumulated more than 1,600 pledges.”

Each month, TZD’s media campaign spotlights one of the top four bad driving behaviors: texting, DUI, no safety belt and speeding. Law enforcement issues extra tickets for the targeted offense. Since Minnesota’s no-texting ban started, citations have skyrocketed from 388 (in 2009) to more than 3,200 (in 2014). The cost for a texting-and-driving citation is $150 for the first offense and up to $300 for a second.

Hernandez reflects upon 11 years of TZD’s progress: “From recycling and anti-smoking campaigns, we knew it would take about 10 years to change culture. Currently seatbelt usage has risen to 95%, and Minnesota traffic fatalities have dropped from 655 in 2003 to 361 in 2014—a 45% reduction. But this is still too high. TZD can only go so far. The rest is up to the fifth E—Everyone Else. So buckle up, drive sober, don’t speed and minimize distractions.”

Are you ready to accept the TZD challenge?

C.G. Worrell is a writer and part-time veterinarian at Heritage Pet Hospital.