my live report for "The Early Show" on distracted driving and headed back to the city via the congested New Jersey Turnpike, what did I see? You guessed it – a driver talking very animatedly on the phone inside his car. He probably thought he was taking the necessary precautions by using his speakerphone instead of holding the phone up to his ear. But he was wrong. I wanted to scream out my window but that wasn't too realistic at 65 miles per hour. Instead, all I could wonder was whether he knew what he was doing is believed to be as dangerous as drinking and driving. My gut tells me no.
A newly formed advocacy group – modeled after the very successful Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and introduced Tuesday -- hopes to make the dangers of driving while using a cell phone as well-known as the dangers of drinking and getting behind the wheel. Think of the possibilities. Since MADD was formed in 1980, the number of drunk driving deaths dropped nearly 50 percent. Can a group called Focus Driven have a similar impact on cell phone driving deaths? Could this be a consciousness-raising moment about distracted driving in our country? Ever the optimist, I'm going to say yes.
Because I think if more of us heard stories like the one of Joe Teater, we might steer clear of talking and texting while behind the wheel. Teater would have been a freshman in college had a 20-year-old woman who had been talking on a cell phone not run a red light six years ago and killed him.
"We lost Joe as a result of a phone call and you think about that today and it just seems so senseless," said Daniel Teater about his son, the youngest of three boys, who was 12. Teater said the woman wasn't a mean person. She was talking to her church at the time where she did volunteer work. She just did not realize the dangers, he said.
"People just do not understand how distracted they are when they engage in a telephone conversation," he said. "And what we're learning is they can look straight ahead and not see what's there." Folks, this so-called cognitive distraction applies to whether you use a hand-held phone or a hands-free device.
Teater knows how tough it can be to give up cell phones while driving. He had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the concept himself even after his son's death so what he thinks we ultimately need, beyond education and tougher laws on the books, is wider use of existing technologies. For instance, there are GPS systems which literally prevent a driver from sending texts and making and receiving calls, beyond reaching out to 9-1-1, while the car is moving.
"Because of the compelling, almost addictive nature of texting, even phone calling, it's important that we have a solution like this," said Teater who thrust himself into raising awareness about distracted driving after his son's death. He is now senior director of the education and advocacy group, the National Safety Council.
Since I became a mom, I've been much more disciplined about using my cell phone while driving but I must admit there are still those moments when I talk to my husband on speakerphone or sneak a peak at my blackberry. After hearing that I am four times as likely to crash if I'm on a cell phone, that one out of every four crashes is believed to be caused by cell phone drivers and that darling young men like Joe Teater would be alive today if it weren't for a cell phone driver, I'm tossing my devices in my backpack whenever I get on the road.
Won't you do the same?
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