published Monday, June 11th, 2012

Dangers of distracted driving

Distracted driving, no matter what the age of the driver, is dangerous. It's especially risky, though, for teens -- and those who have no choice but to share the nation's roads with them. That's because teenagers rely so heavily on text messaging to communicate and because so many of the youngsters text while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. The practice does not come without consequences.

Consider this: A new national survey found that 58 percent of high school seniors admitted they had texted or emailed while driving in the month prior to the survey. Among juniors, the number somewhat lower -- 43 percent. The numbers shouldn't be a surprise. The typical teen, researchers say, sends and receives about 100 text messages a day. For teens who drive, it stands to reason that some of those many messages are either sent or received while the youngster is behind the wheel.

The result is predictable. A growing number of teens are injured or killed as a result of distracted driving. Indeed, distracted driving deaths are most common in teens, accounting for about 16 percent of motor vehicle deaths in the age group. Ominously, the percentage is climbing.

Teens' distracted driving is dangerous to others, too. Those who share the road with them unfortunately face an increasing chance of being injured or killed in a crash caused by distractions. A recent trial in Massachusetts is a case in point.

Last week, a judge in Haverhill sentenced an 18-year-old to jail for a year and suspended his driving license for 15 years for causing a fatal crash. Jurors ruled Aaron Deveau was responsible for causing death and injury when he veered across the road while texting.

The message from the Massachusetts courtroom is startling and appropriately clear. Jurors and the sentencing judge sent an unmistakable message. There's never an excuse for a teen -- or anyone -- to text, email or use a hand-held cellphone while driving. Those who text behind the wheel should pay a high price for the act.

Currently 39 states ban texting while driving and 10 prohibit both texting and hand-held cellphone use. Given the dangers -- death, injury and property damage -- related to those practices, other states should implement similar bans .

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