Thursday, September 23, 2010

Editorial: Forget The Text—Get This Message

On Sunday night around 11:30 19-year-old Nechama Rothberger was in her car, using her cell phone to send a text message while she was driving.

On Sunday night around 11:30 53-year-old Tian Sheng Lin, father of 3, sat on his scooter stopped at a red light. He was making a delivery for his family’s Chinese restaurant.

In the seconds before their paths crossed, neither of them had any reason to think anything could go wrong.

And then the woman behind the wheel struck the man on the scooter, sending him flying off the bike and through the air.

Her text message was still unsent and he suffered severe trauma to the head. She was arrested and charged with misdemeanor reckless driving and using a mobile phone while driving.

He was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead.

Her lawyer said his client "didn't hit him intentionally. It was merely an accident."

His daughter said, "My dad did everything for his family. He always took care of us."

A major nationwide effort has been launched to stop distracted driving, with April having been designated as Na- tional Distracted Drivers Awareness month. This accident is but one of a long list of crashes that was caused by text messaging behind the wheel. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has identified texting drivers as being 23 times more likely to crash or have near-misses as non-texters.

Yet another study, conducted by Car and Driver Magazine, provides a set of results describable as nothing less than frightening. Editors at the magazine had a car rigged with a red-light device that would alert drivers when to brake. Then they a driver, on a deserted air strip to see how long it would take them to brake under varying circumstances. The study determined that an unimpaired driver took approximately one-half of a second to brake, a legally drunk driver stopped the car four feet later than the unimpaired driver, while a driver who was reading a text stopped 36 feet later and another who was texting while driving came to a stop 70 feet further than an unimpaired, non-distracted

If you are one of those people who think this type of thing would never happen to you because you are a “careful” texter, I urge you to consider this.

About two weeks ago, driving down Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach, my Blackberry text alert went off and I immediately reached for the phone. Staring down at the message and totally distracted by the text, I suddenly remembered I was behind the wheel of the car. Looking back up at the road, I saw, less than 10 feet away, an elderly couple crossing the street at 158th Avenue. The overhead light was red and there was just about enough time to stop the car before plowing into them.

The elderly couple never even knew they were in danger of being mowed down by some reckless idiot on the phone.

I think how lucky we all were that day and will never pick up a cell phone while driving again. I urge you to make the same commitment. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t e-mail and drive. Don’t talk and drive. Just drive.

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