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Text-messaging teen driver crashes into police car

LUTZ — Katelyn Blaylock, a Freedom High School student, was looking for a little independence when she ditched class Wednesday, Tampa police said.

She got in her car along with two other students, picked up her cell phone and began text messaging, police said. Ahead of her, a red light loomed at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs and Palm Springs boulevards.

So did a stopped Tampa police patrol car.

Blaylock, distracted, plowed into it, police said.

Tampa police Officer Tanya Manning was not injured. Blaylock, 18, and front seat passenger Alexis Suda, 18, suffered minor injuries when air bags deployed.

Police took Blaylock, Suda and the third student, Ashton Longworth, 17, all of Lutz, back to Freedom High. They were "delivered to the assistant principal," a police statement said. Their parents were notified.

Blaylock was cited with careless driving, police said. The crash caused about $3,000 in damage.

No one returned a call left at the Blaylock home. Longworth's father declined to comment.

Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Larry Kraus said the state does not track accidents involving text messaging because it's hard to get drivers to admit to doing so.

But he called it a growing problem. Crashes involving cell phones count in the broader category of "distracted driving," which rose 13 percent between 2003 and 2007.

A month ago, Kraus said, a teen girl rear-ended another car at a traffic light and admitted she was text messaging, he said.

"We do know it's an issue. It became an issue over the last few years with technology adding e-mails and other things to the phones," he said.

The crashes seem to involve more teens and young adults, he said. FHP hosts Safety Talks at high schools, urging students to pull over to text, Kraus said.

Washington, D.C., and 12 states have banned text messaging while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Ten others restrict new drivers from doing so.

Several states have floated bills to restrict driving while using cell phones. Florida lawmakers tried in 2007 to ban drivers under 18 from talking on cell phones, but the measure faced opposition from the telecommunications industry.

Text-messaging teen driver crashes into police car 05/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 11:11pm]

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