Video: After tragedy, mom warns distracted drivers

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msnbc.com
updated 9/25/2008 9:09:41 AM ET 2008-09-25T13:09:41

Kristy Rexrode doesn’t need to read about the perils of text messaging while driving a vehicle.

She’s all too familiar with its tragic consequences. Her 58-year-old father, Robert “Bobby” Woosley, died two summers ago in a car accident on Highway 501 near Brookneal, Va., the town he lived in.

A 21-year-old driver traveling in the opposite direction on the highway crossed over the double yellow line, slamming into Woosley’s pickup truck. He died within hours, as did the young woman driving the car.

“The accident happened at 8:05 a.m., and when the police checked her cell phone, she had started a text message to her boyfriend at 8:03 and it was never finished,” said Rexrode, 35.

The driver “hit my father head-on and his truck caught on fire. Luckily, a bystander was able to pull him from his truck before it burned. He had melted parts of the dash on his shoes.”

Think about those images staying in your head forever. Think about the loss to two families of people they loved. Think about the Los Angeles Metrolink train crash Sept. 12 that killed 25 people, and injured more than 130 others, and the train engineer who was text-messaging that day, and who also lost his life.

When I wrote about that accident early last week, and the issue of “driving while distracted” by text messaging while behind the wheel, e-mails poured in. They generally fell into three categories: 1) Outrage over the issue; 2) Disbelief that drivers can or would do both; and 3) Anger that the engineer was being blamed before a full investigation was done.

Early indications were that the engineer, Robert Sanchez, may have been texting at the time the train ran head-on into a freight train.

Since last week, California’s Public Utilities Commission passed an emergency order banning the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices for anyone operating a train.

Also, the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, said it received some records of Sanchez’ cell phone calls and text messages, “which indicate that the engineer had sent and received text messages on the day of the accident, including some while he was on duty.”

The board will look at those records “with other investigative information to determine as precisely as possible the exact times of those messages in relation to the engineer’s operation of his train,” the NTSB said in a statement.

Non-believer
Among those who find it hard to believe that people can text and drive at the same time was a “JPage,” whose e-mail subject line said, “Come on!”

The short message: “You can't be serious, nobody, unless they have four arms, can text with dexterity while driving!”

That would seem to make sense, but unfortunately, it doesn’t take four arms — just the lack of a brain.

In fact, 42 percent of more than 2,000 teens said they can even text while blindfolded, according to a recent poll by CTIA-The Wireless Association and Harris Interactive.

The ability to text message is almost as important as breathing to many in their teens, 20s and even 30s. Several polls have found that large numbers of those who text admit to doing so when they’re behind the wheel. Well, at least they're being honest if not safe.

As of mid-week, in msnbc.com’s unscientific “live vote” poll on the issue, “What risky behavior do you most engage in while texting?” 32 percent of nearly 50,000 people said they do drive and text at the same time.

Fourteen percent said they walk and text (which can also be dangerous). Small numbers said they text while running, biking or even putting on makeup.

“I have a 17-year-old daughter. My husband and I have always made it known to her that our family rules are while driving ‘NO TEXTING,’ ” e-mailed Tammy Kyle of Arkansas. “I tell her that nothing is that important that the person cannot wait a bit for a response.”

Texting interrupted
Chemical engineer Mel Barbera of Ohio e-mailed that he has a patent pending on technology that would prevent calls and text messages from reaching cell phones in a vehicle.

Barbera also wants to include a “safety feature” that could be “activated with a code entry by the retail distributor and deactivated at a later date upon parental request.

“Alternatively, the parent could activate or deactivate using a code as the need arises,” he wrote. “Additional variations might include notifying the parent of attempted cell phone use while driving, or being able to dial 911 even when all other use is blocked.”

While many of you support state bans on texting while driving, some of you are not sure they will work.

“It doesn’t matter if states ban it,” e-mailed David J. Enriquez. “California banned talking on a cell phone, tons of people still do it.”

On Sept. 24, California joined five other states in making it against the law to read or send text messages while driving. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Alaska, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have such laws on their books already, and several other states are considering a ban as well.

In Arizona last year, the city of Phoenix banned texting while driving, following a texting-while-driving accident that killed two women, e-mailed Jeanette Tejeda de Gomez, director of communication and constituent services for Arizona’s state Senate Democratic Caucus.

Scottsdale’s Transportation Commission recently recommended to its city council that the same be done in that city, she said, adding that legislators have not been able to come to agreement on the issue of a statewide ban.

In Virginia, where Kristy Rexrode lives, drivers of school buses and "novice" drivers are prohibited from texting and driving.

“After losing my father to this senseless act, I would do anything to speak out” in favor of more restrictions on the deadly combination, she said.

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