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Texting behind the wheel: more dangerous than a DUI?

Campaigns to prevent drunk driving have been in operation for decades. In Tennessee, various groups, from the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) and Governor's Highway Safety Office to the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) all promote awareness of the dangers of drunk driving. And the THP will arrest you if they suspect you are driving impaired.

We also know that cellphone use, and especially texting, can be dangerous while driving. In Tennessee, texting while driving is prohibited for all drivers. Drivers are permitted to use cellphones, except those on a permit or intermediate license. However, we all have seen innumerable examples of driver's with heads down, obviously checking their phone or sending a text.

Some studies have even suggested that texting while driving is as dangerous drunk driving, and a Tennessee TV station sent a reporter to find out if that was true. With the assistance of a local police officer and the department's test track, she attempted to drive the obstacle course while texting and wearing the DUI goggles, which are designed to degrade your ability to drive a vehicle in a fashion similar to alcohol impairment.

She drove the course four times. Once, normally, without any distraction. A second time while attempting to text and a third time using hands-free, voice texting. Last, she drove the course with the DUI goggles. Traffic cones were set up to simulate pedestrians, other vehicles and property.

The first pass went well, with no cones struck. With the DUI goggles, she hit one cone. While texting, she struck seven cones, and even with voice-texting, she struck cones.

This is not to suggest drunk driving is not a serious charge or that it is to be treated lightly. However, many people, judging by behavior at traffic lights and on the streets of Chattanooga, believe glancing at their phone or sending a text is not dangerous. They believe they "can handle it."

Perhaps they will take it seriously when the penalties are eventually increased to where they are severe as a DUI.

Source: wate.com, "WATE 6 On Your Side compares texting while driving to driving impaired," Lori Tucker, July 9, 2015

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