Steven Araico was having a pretty good 17th birthday. His white GMC Terrain held cards, sweets and balloons as he sped down Ninth Avenue N in St. Petersburg on the way from school. The St. Petersburg Catholic senior, heading home to say "hi" to his mom before swim practice, was texting his friends, checking his Instagram. • "I noticed I was riding through the lines, but I kept on texting," he said. It was no big deal; he did it all the time. • Then he ran over the curb, most likely going faster than the 35-mile-per-hour limit, he said. "Half the car tilted to the side," Araico said. "The front tire was smoking, and the axle was all messed up. It freaked me out."
No one was hurt in the accident. His dad came, and the car had to be towed. The bill? "Probably a couple thousand dollars," Araico said.
At any moment of the day in America, 660,000 people are using their cellphones or fiddling with other electronics while driving. In 2011, 1.3 million crashes involved cellphone use.
In 2011, 3,331 people died in car accidents caused by distracted driving. The most common way for a teen to die is in a motor crash.
We all know that texting while driving is, to be honest, dangerously stupid. But we do it anyway. Why?
"It's addicting," Araico admitted. "I know how dangerous texting and driving is … I think it's the most dangerous thing you could do while driving." In fact, 97 percent of teens affirm the danger of texting behind the wheel, but 43 percent still admit they type and read messages while driving.
Araico's accident happened exactly one week before Florida's ban on texting while driving went into effect Tuesday. The ban deems texting while driving a secondary offense, which means a cop can only issue a $30 ticket if you are also being ticketed for another offense like speeding or running a red light. Texting at stop signs and red lights is still allowed. So is using talk-to-text programs such as Siri.
Rochelle Gober, a junior at St. Petersburg Catholic, thinks the law won't stop kids from texting and driving. "It's not harsh enough," she said. "If someone sees you using your phone while in the driver's seat, you should be … pulled over. You should be pulled over even at stoplights. It should be a first offense."
Araico agreed. "Students won't abide by it," he said. It took his accident to change his behavior, he said. "It has decreased my texting while driving. For instance, yesterday, I was at a red light and when it turned green I put the phone down. Normally, I would just keep going.
"A text is not worth your life or someone else's life."
Natalia Rangel is trying to keep fellow classmates from getting into accidents. The St. Petersburg Catholic senior supervised a schoolwide initiative to heighten awareness of the new law. Through her BAM (Business, Advertising, Marketing) class taught by Gary Preston, she hung signs up in classrooms and advertised for Oct. 1, when students would have an opportunity to sign a pledge. "The pledge is basically saying: 'I will not text because it affects the way I drive. I guarantee I will be safe,' " she said. After they signed the contract, the students had to affirm in front of other students that they made the pledge.
With help from others in her BAM class, Rangel passed out colored silicon thumb rings with the words "Txtng kills."
"Every time you go to text it can remind you," she said. The rings were purchased from textingkillsthumbbands.com and come in a variety of colors, including glow. "Kids like free stuff. They (were) really excited about getting (the rings)."
Rangel said it is important for her to encourage her friends. "I always say that I would rather be your secretary than have you text and drive," she said, but she admits the temptation to text and drive is tough to overcome for many teenagers.
She hopes students will stop to think about what they're actually doing. "You're using your brain to think of what you're going to text next. You're using your hands and you're using your eyes. How is that driving? It scares me so much."
Araico said he has had an important realization. "I feel like I could drive better drunk than texting."
Sources: National Safety Council; Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study; Institute for Highway Safety Fatality Facts.
To read a Tampa Bay Times story about how schools are educating students about the ban, scan this code.
(I don't text while driving, because) I'm terrified of getting into an accident.
I don't know a teen who doesn't text while driving.
I am so used to it, and I am a rapid texter, so I am always texting someone back.
People already have that mind-set to text and drive, and it's really hard to change someone's mind-set.
When I am in the situation of another driver texting while driving, I ask for them to put their phone away. When I am in the car with my mother and if she is on her phone, I ask for her to put it away and focus on her driving. She simply responds, "I'm not texting while driving, I'm checking my email!" Checking your email, Facebook or text messages all take your attention off the road.
I've never checked my phone while driving.
I think it's a great idea to ban texting because it makes us kids safer drivers.
I rarely text while driving, and when I do I talk with the phone on speaker.
(The law won't be effective because) texting is already addictive. People have already gotten used to doing it while driving. I think they will only listen to the law for a little while, then go back to normal.
I think it's ignorance. If you're in a giant metal box going 100 miles per hour you don't want to be texting while driving that giant metal box.
(Texting while driving) is not good at all. It's really bad. I'm guilty of doing it and it's very bad. I saw some old lady doing it today; (teens) do it every time they get in the car.
I think texting and driving can be dangerous only if you do it frequently.
They do a good job in driver's ed … but I think the most important way of educating teens about the dangers of texting and driving is good parenting. Parents need to tell their kids and follow the law themselves. It's common sense.
I was on a bridge, a two-lane roadway, and the lady had pulled into my lane while texting. So it was either honk and get her attention so she'd pull back into her lane, or go swimming.
I think 99 percent (of teens) have to send at least a text message a day. But while driving I think people are getting a little more smart about it.