Last Words, Not Texts by Kelci Weidenaar

The following student essay was submitted as an entry in our scholarship essay contest.

Last Words, Not Texts

By Kelci Weidenaar

A brokenhearted teen, tears welling in her eyes, describes her sister, Ashley’s, accident to an AT&T documentary on texting and driving. Her voice catches and you can see the tears threatening to overflow as she shares that her sister was reading her text when she drove into the median and crashed, ending her life. The horror and grief is plainly evident on her face as she holds up the picture of her sister.1 As you listen to her story, you can’t help wonder if this was a freak accident or a very real and looming threat.

Are we at risk of texting our last words instead of speaking them?

When we hear that road injuries are number eight in the top ten causes of death worldwide2 our thoughts usually jump first to drunk driving, but studies have shown there is something statistically even more dangerous than drunk driving and that is texting.

Surprised? Many people are, and yet texting and driving continue:

  • 1,600,000 accidents per year – National Safety Counsel
  • 330,000 injuries per year – Harvard Center for risk analysis
  • 11 teen deaths every day – Ins. Institute For Hwy Safety Fatality Facts
  • nearly 25% of all car accidents.3

Professor of psychology, Paul Atchley, of KU put things into perspective when he said that, “Hands- free cellphone usage increases accident risk by approximately 500%, texting and driving by almost 2400%, compared to drunk driving which increases accident risk by 400%.”4

With these alarming statistics, it is scary to think that at any given daylight moment across America approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.5 A survey showed that a quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive and twenty percent of teens and ten percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi- message text conversations while driving.6

It is hard for us to imagine that one quick text while driving might be the end of our life or another’s. It seems so innocent after all. 77% of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving.7 What really happens when we text anyway?Studies have now shown that five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which, if you are driving at 55mph, is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.8 It is like driving with your eyes closed. Furthermore, scientists now know there is no such thing as double-tasking. Our brain can not focus on two tasks at once, it merely flips back and forth between the two, giving only a distracted attention to both.9 It is foolishness and carelessness to think we can safely drive what is basically a guided projectile, and compose and type a text at the same time.

The courts now support this position, too. ABC news followed the landmark case in Massachusetts, where an eighteen year old was convicted of vehicular homicide for texting before the crash, which now ranks texting with drug and alcohol use in such cases.10 Legislators are also seeing the threat posed by texting and now 39 states plus Washington, D.C. prohibit all drivers from text messaging while driving.11

With all this evidence piling up proving the dangerous nature of texting and driving, what can we do to break the cultural habit? For one, awareness is key. There are countless sites (many I have referenced here) with free videos, presentations, and social media ties that can help spread the word. AT&T has taken a front row in this campaign by creating a texting and driving simulator.12 Remember seeing is believing.

Accountability can be the second deciding factor. Take AT&T’s It Can Wait pledge or download their Drive Mode app for your phone; when activated it blocks texts and sends an automated message for when you are driving. You can find similar apps for Verizon and Sprint called Safely Go.13 Just this month, news of an Apple iPhone technology in the patent stage has come out with the potential to sense when you are driving and automatically block texts.14 This could easily issue a new age of phone use in cars as we raise the awareness and provide the accountability.

With these two, easy but highly effective tips, we can play our part to remove the threat we are causing by texting and driving. Let us live long and happy lives with meaningful last words, not last texts.

End Notes:
1 AT&T. AT&T Don’t Text While Driving Documentary. April 12, 2013., accessed April 30, 2014. 2 World Health Organization. Top 10 Causes of Death. July, 2013., accessed April 30, 2014. 3,7,11 Text and Driving Safety. DWI: Driving While Intexticated. 2014., accessed April 30, 2014.
4 University of Kansas City. Professor Profile: The dangers of texting and driving. August 19, 2010., accessed April 30, 2014.
5,6 Official US Government Website For Distracted Driving. What Is Distracted Driving?., accessed April 30, 2014.

6 refer to 5

7 refer to 3

8 Stop The Texts Stop the Wrecks. Facts., accessed April 30, 2014.

9 Jon Hamilton. Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. October 2, 2008., accessed April 30, 2014.

10 ABC News. Texting Teen Driver Convicted of Homicide: Car Accidents Caught On Tape. June 6, 2012., accessed April 30, 2014.

11 refer to 3

12 It Can Wait. Texting and Driving Simulator., accessed April 30, 2014.

13 It Can Wait., accessed April 30, 2014.

14 Samuel Gibbs. Apple’s iPhone ‘lock out’ patent could end texting while driving. April 24, 2014. while-driving, accessed April 30, 2014.