Texting while Driving in the Headlights

In a driving class, teenager Joseph James attempts to drive and text at the same time.
In a driving class, teenager Joseph James attempts to drive and text at the same time.

On a makeshift test track in Washington, teenage drivers are learning a valuable lesson, CBS News correspondent Daniel Sieberg reports.

17-year-old Joseph James was confident about his multi-tasking abilities, until his instructor drove him to distraction. "It was challenging. I wasn't expecting what she threw at me," said James. "Between the shifting me into neutral the texting, the cell phone call, it was a lot to handle."

The federal government will host a major summit Wednesday on the dangers of distracted driving. Teens may be the worst offenders. But we're all at risk.

One prominent study revealed that texting or using a cell phone while driving is as debilitating as having a blood alcohol level of .08 percent, legally drunk in most states. And distracted drivers are four times as likely to be in a serious crash.

See Daniel Sieberg's 2008 Story on Texting Here
Read Daniel Sieberg's Blog on this Story

When it comes to calls, some say hands-free devices are a safer alternative.

"We believe that it really issue the 'eyes off the road and hands off the wheel' that creates the real risk with distracted driving," said Jim Vondale, Ford's safety director.

But researchers have long warned that it's not just the physical act of using a phone but the actual conversation that is the danger. The brain actually reduces visual activity, especially peripheral vision, when engaged in a phone conversation.

As for texting -- a CBS News/New York Times pollshows 90 percent of those surveyed think texting while driving should be illegal. Yet among younger people, some 16 percent think it should be allowed.

The big question, though, are Americans changing their behavior?

Only 63 percent of those surveyed said they'd abide by laws that regulate cell phone use in cars.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says enforcement must improve. "We've done it with seat belts where enforcement is very strong now, and I think we'll get to it with texting also."

Joseph James got the message.

"I will not be distracted when I drive. I will keep my eyes on the road, notice other drivers. I want to avoid that accident," he said.

Experts agree, the real solution lies in our own hands.