‘Don’t text and drive’ is message from governor

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Gov. Sam Brownback proclaimed Wednesday as a day to urge motorists not to text while driving, a message that resonates with Doug Meyer and Mary Ann Khoury.

Last year, Meyer, 43, was riding a motorcycle when a young woman pulled out in front of him from a restaurant parking lot on West Central. He braked hard and missed colliding with her vehicle by inches. At the next traffic light, he rode up beside her and saw that she was “just texting away,” oblivious to him as he honked at her. It seemed obvious to him that she was dangerously distracted by text messaging when she pulled in front of him.

Khoury, president and CEO of DUI Victim Center of Kansas, said she thinks texting can be “as bad or worse” than driving under the influence because the driver is not paying any attention. Khoury said she wouldn’t be surprised if the Legislature eventually passes a law treating texting while driving as a form of driving under the influence.

Kansas Department of Transportation records show that in 2010 and 2011, there were 1,048 accidents in Kansas where investigators listed distraction by cellphone as a contributing cause. The accident reports don’t distinguish between drivers who were texting from those who were talking.

The accidents, which involved 1,759 vehicles and 13 pedestrians, resulted in nine deaths and 513 injuries, 43 of which were listed as incapacitating.

In a news release Tuesday, KDOT noted that it is illegal to text while driving. The state agency said that Brownback has proclaimed Wednesday as “No Text on Board Pledge Day.” KDOT and some other state transportation agencies are joining AT&T to help spread such anti-texting messages as “It Can Wait” and “No text is worth dying for.”

Similar messages will appear on electronic signs on interstates across Kansas.

Lt. Doug Nolte, spokesman for the Wichita Police Department, said Tuesday that what makes texting while driving so dangerous is “you are not focused on driving. You really can’t text blindly … and that’s the danger — your eyes come off the road.”

In a March article, The Eagle reported that Wichita police ticketed 34 drivers last year under the state’s new law banning texting while driving. The records showed that the typical offender was not a teenager headed to or from school, but an adult driving between 1 and 8 p.m. Court records showed that the average age of the 34 ticketed drivers was 30. The group included 15 women and 19 men.

An AT&T study found that “on average, 43 percent of American teenage drivers admitted to texting and driving even though 97 percent know it is dangerous,” the Kansas Department of Transportation said.

A recent study found that “those who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to crash,” KDOT said.

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