Onyekachukwu Osakwe: Distracted driving poses threat


Published: Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.

ILY, JK, LOL, OMG ... ICW (It Can Wait)! Please do not text and drive.

It used to be that the most important behavioral risk factor for teenagers and young adults was drinking while driving. More recently, texting while driving has emerged as the leading cause of accidents and death among teenagers and young, causing over 3,000 deaths and over 400,000 injuries annually.

Driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, over 75 percent of young adults are confident that they can safely text while driving. Research shows that at 55 mph, an average text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for enough time to cover the length of a football field, blindfolded.

Young drivers are also surfing the Web and taking self-portraits behind the wheel. Adult drivers have also been implicated, with almost half of all adults admitting to texting while driving. This has become an epidemic that is taking our loved ones’ lives.

Significant successes have been made in the war against tobacco and alcohol, with the proportion of alcohol related traffic crash deaths dropping 52 percent in the past 30 years. We need to start making strides in the direction towards ending this menace in our society.

The good news is that 90 percent of drivers support laws that ban texting while driving. Thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia the Virgin Islands and Guam have banned texting behind the wheel. Florida recently placed a ban on texting while driving as a secondary offence. The general population can adopt measures that complement efforts of the government.

When our impressionable youth observe adults texting while driving, it is only natural for them to do the same. Parents need to give their teen drivers clear and simple instructions not to text while driving. Devices and mobile apps are also available, which monitor and/or prevent young adults from texting while driving. We need to stay updated, and raise awareness about this epidemic.

The next time you respond to a text while driving, remember that before the end of every day, up to 10 people in this country would have been killed by drivers who thought they could safely text while operating a vehicle. No message is worth that risk.

For more information on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s effort on distracted driving, visit www.NHTSA.gov and www.distraction.gov.

Onyekachukwu Osakwe is a Gainesville pediatrician.

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