Break-Neck Speed

In 1972 I went on a Girl Scout camping trip to Washington, D.C. One of the chaperoning mothers brought along her son, Terry. We kidded with each other that I was girl "Terri" and he was boy "Terry."

Terry's family moved to Monroe, La., shortly after our return home to Vicksburg. Terry and I had developed a little crush for each other and decided to keep in touch by writing.

I remember waiting days, sometimes weeks for the mailman to deliver a letter. Nevertheless, no matter how impatient I felt, I had to wait for that letter to arrive. When I was younger and dinosaurs roamed, communication was obviously a bit slower in comparison to our technology today.

With cell phones, I can communicate instantly. No matter where they are, and no matter where I am, I can call or text. No sitting by the mailbox waiting on the mailman. All I have to do is type in a phone number or text my message and, bam!, I have communicated.

Unfortunately, people abuse this break-neck-speed form of communication. It seems we are "slow" in figuring out how to regulate ourselves as to when and where to call or text.

The most dangerous form of cell-phone use is driving and texting. On its one-year anniversary of calling for a ban on cell phone use and texting while driving, the National Safety Council put out a report using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The report showed that drivers using their cell phones cause 28 percent of traffic accidents—at least 1.6 million crashes each year. Those driving and texting cause a minimum of 200,000 additional wrecks every year.

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also found that texting is the most dangerous distraction for drivers. VTTI's studies show we are at a 23 times greater risk of being in an accident when we drive and text.

In another study done by the University of Utah, cell-phone use was found to be the equivalent to a person driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, the minimum level for drunk driving.

It's horrifying for me to think about teenaged drivers and texting, especially since I'm a mother of a 17-year-old son. Statistics show that teenagers—new drivers—are already three times more likely to have car accidents. Half the teenagers surveyed in 2009 by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group admitted to texting while they drive. It makes for a deadly combination.

A friend of mine recently had a close call. He had been riding along with his son in the new car he had received for graduation when his son began texting while driving. My friend warned his son of the danger to himself and others. Unfortunately, his words fell on deaf ears. Late that night, he received a call: His son had been in an accident and had totaled his new car. Luckily, neither he nor anyone else was seriously hurt. Yes, his son had been texting.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed some type of texting-while-driving ban. Unfortunately, Mississippi is not included in the seventeen. This past legislative session, our Mississippi Senate approved legislation outlawing text messaging by all drivers, but it failed in a House Committee.

In 2009, however, Mississippi banned text messaging for drivers who have restricted licenses. Hopefully, when our Legislature returns in January, a distracted driving law will pass. State Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia, a sponsor for last year's push to outlaw text messaging for drivers, says he will return in 2011 to reignite the bill.

While we wait for our government to take action on a ban, we must use self-discipline. We must be examples for all the young drivers on the road. We must talk about, educate, nag, scream and holler—whatever it takes to get the message out about dangerous and inappropriate times to call and text.

Even with all our speedy communication devices, there are still times we must practice patience. I had to wait at my mailbox for Terry's letters; surely, I can delay reading or writing a text message while I'm driving. I hope you can, too.

Terri Cowart lives in Vicksburg with her family. A lover of dark chocolate, she can't live without "Days of Our Lives."

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