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Campaigns against texting, other distractions hope to convince drivers ‘It Can Wait’

Published: Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 5:00 a.m. CST

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Texting while driving isn’t a new concern, but it has received a spotlight in recent months as municipalities, local law enforcement officials and even mobile carriers are coming on-board with messages warning against the activity.

During September, more than 170 Illinois municipalities approved proclamations to promote awareness of the dangers of texting on Illinois roadways, according to the Illinois Municipal League, in an effort tied to AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign.

Texting while driving is against the law in Illinois, as is the distracted driving behavior of talking on a cell phone in school or construction zones.

Morris Police Department Chief Brent Dite said the issue is one that his department takes seriously. “We have a very low tolerance for it, because we know the dangers of it,” he said.

Dite said officers are trained to keep an eye out for it and issue citations when they spot incidents of texting drivers.

“We’re doing what we can do to enforce it,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes because sometimes people have the phone in their lap and the officer doesn’t see it. There are some challenges, but we are aggressively enforcing the law.”

Grundy County Sheriff Terry Marketti said his deputies are doing the same.

“We’ve cited several people for doing it since the law changed, but I think it’s going on frequently,” he said of texting. “I notice it myself when I’m driving and I pull up at a stop light and see the person next to me (on their phone).”

While the focus of much of the campaigns is on young drivers, both Marketti and Dite said they’re not the only ones taking part in the activity.

“Truthfully, I think it’s certainly several different generations that are doing it,” he said. “Go sit at an airport, or a mall, and you would be surprised at how many people are texting. It’s not only younger kids, it’s adults, too.”

He added that the message his office is attempting to get out to the public spans age groups.

“I think you can’t blame any generation, everybody’s doing it now, and we’re asking that they don’t,” he said.

Dite agreed.

“I think you see it in numerous generations,” he said. “I think it’s probably a bigger issue with the young generation because they are inexperienced drivers.”

He praised the education area students are receiving through driving classes, but said beyond classes, it’s up to teens to decide what behavior they’re going to choose. He said students should be aware of the dangers, though.

“Just because you’re 16 and you have a driver’s license doesn’t mean you’re an experienced driver,” he said. “It takes someone years to become an experienced driver.”

That message was echoed by insurance industry experts.

In late August, State Farm released information about a national survey it conducted with Harris Interactive.

Chris Mullen, director of technology research for State Farm, stated in prepared remarks that the research found that young drivers lack awareness of the higher risk of crashes texting while driving has.

“Most teen drivers agree inexperience makes them less safe as drivers. It’s equally important to understand that getting a driver’s license, while an important milestone, does not make one experienced,” Mullen said. “There is still so much to learn on the road to being a safe driver.”

The State Farm study asked over 600 14- to 18-year-olds about distracted driving and found that about 78 percent of teens said they had spoken up and pointed out other driver’s distracted driving behaviors and that, in many cases, it helped to stop the behavior. Still, about 34 percent of the group said they text and drive.

On the other hand, nearly half of the 16 percent of passengers who did not speak up said they did not do so because they believed the driver could handle the distraction.

No matter the age, Marketti said he strongly urges motorists to think twice before texting, because it causes drivers to take their eyes off the road when they should be paying attention. He said in many crashes texting is evident as a cause when drivers go off the pavement, hit the shoulder and attempt to overcorrect.

He added that drivers who are caught texting could also pay the price through fines or worse outcomes. “I believe it causes accidents, it causes injuries, and it causes deaths,” he said.

In addition to the messages area law enforcement agencies are putting out into the communities, some municipalities are putting their message in sign form. In recent months, the village of Channahon placed 10 signs across the village that remind drivers not to text. One such sign is posted at Minooka Community High School South Campus.

Dite said he’s begun to look into similar signage for Morris, especially in the areas around local schools to remind drivers not to use their phones in the school zone.

“I think you’re going to see that more and more with municipalities and counties,” he said. “ ... Putting some strategically-placed signs helps educate the public and reminds them.”

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