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Guest column | Dr. Rao Musunuru

Parents must lead by example in text-crazed world

Perhaps, the message wasn't clear: Texting and driving is a deadly combination.

A proposed bill to ban texting while driving was killed in the Florida Legislature, again. This year all the credit goes to Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff. Several of her comments on this bill seem to come out of arrogance, if not ignorance, reflective of personal conflicts rather than partisan issues. Or maybe, she is trying hard to live up to her reputation of being the "Angel of Death."

There is nothing wrong with text messaging technology. Matt Berg made the list of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for using the technology to improve community health monitoring in Africa. The problem is, who is using it and how? It is very easy to see that texting while driving poses a great threat — a heavy missile, at high speed, out of control. That sets up the stage for mass destruction, literally.

We all accept that drunken driving is very dangerous and is punishable by law. We do not worry about breaching individual rights. We know that preaching alone won't stop it. But distraction from cell phone use while driving is estimated to extend a driver's reaction time as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration at the legal limit.

This day and age, the No. 1 source of driver inattention is the use of a wireless device. A report by the National Safety Council found that cell phone use leads to about 1.6 million crashes a year. About 200,000 of these accidents are caused by texting while driving. Distraction from cell phone use is estimated to cause up to 25 percent of car accidents.

Ten percent of drivers ages 16 to 26 are estimated to be on their phone at any one time and nearly 50 percent of teens admit to text messaging while driving.

How did teenagers survive when there were no cell phones around and no texting available? How did they communicate with friends in their classroom? How did they talk to their parents in the next room? How did they convey messages to siblings in the back seat of the car? How did they express their feelings to their friends a hundred times a day? How did they store any idea in their mind for more than a few minutes? How did they know what was happening in the world at any given moment? How did the grownups conduct any business? How did anybody get anything done? Mind-boggling, indeed, and totally incomprehensible.

Even though there are many other distractions that can cause motor vehicle accidents and it may be difficult to detect texting in a moving vehicle (before the accident), the mere existence of the law itself will discourage most people (like so many other laws). Even one life saved is worth it.

However, we should not be depending on the legislators or waiting for new laws to save our precious lives, especially when death and disability is so preventable.

Even the next generation of cell phones with voice-activated, hands-free texting features will not solve the problem. What you are doing with your mind is as important as what you are doing with your hands, for safe driving with fast reaction time.

According to a SADD/Liberty Mutual study, the biggest influence on how teens drive is their parents. Almost two-thirds of high school teens say their parents talk on a cell phone while driving; almost half say their parents speed; and almost a third say their parents don't wear a safety belt.

Hey, parents! Can you hear me now? You need to talk — face to face.

You need to lead by example.

You need to change — before it is too late!

Dr. Rao Musunuru is a board certified cardiologist in Bayonet Point.

Parents must lead by example in text-crazed world 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 5:46pm]

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