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Lawrence Egerton
Lawrence Egerton
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N.C. texting case illustrates “perfect storm” of danger

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In what may be the first court case involving North Carolina’s two-year texting ban, Andrew James Watkins, age 25, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor death by vehicle this past week.

The accident, which took place in Asheville, N.C., in August of 2010, took the life of a 39-year-old motorcyclist. Watkins, while distracted by texting, veered out of his lane and hit the motorcycle.

Watkins was given a 60-day suspended sentence, 200 hours of community service and fined $1,000. He also was required not to use or possess a cell phone while driving.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2009 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and an estimated 448,000 were injured in crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.

Using a cell phone use while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.

But texting is even worse. A study on texting by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to crash or be involved in a near-crash.

“As dangerous as talking on the phone appears to be, texting is one of the most dangerous things a person can do behind the wheel,” said Arthur Goodwin, a researcher at the Highway Safety Research Center in Chapel Hill. “It takes your hands, your eyes, and your brains — the perfect storm, from a highway safety point of view.”

Drivers should also remember that these criteria apply to GPS devices as well. It’s all too tempting to program your destination while driving down the highway. And all too dangerous.

North Carolina’s ban on texting while driving was passed in 2009. Thirty-three other states have enacted bans on texting while driving. The other 16 should get on board.