Don't Text and Drive

“Happy” Text Has Grim Outcome for North Carolina Woman

Don't Text and Drive

Despite the overwhelming evidence that texting while driving is dangerous, all too many drivers are still deciding that using their smartphones can’t wait until they get to their destination. One of the latest tragic tales of a texting accident comes from North Carolina, where a young woman died seconds after posting a Facebook status about Pharrell Williams’ popular song “Happy.”


Police believe that 32-year-old Courtney Ann Sanford was driving in High Point, NC, when she posted the Facebook comment “The happy song makes me so HAPPY” at 8:33 pm on April 24th. Less than a minute after that comment went live, the High Point Police Department received a call about a car accident. The collision occurred when Sanford crossed the center median and drove headlong into an oncoming truck. The truck driver, 73-year-old John Wallace Thompson, was thankfully not injured, but Sanford’s Toyota Corolla caught on fire, and Sanford died at the scene.


Investigators found that Sanford was wearing a seat belt, but that it wasn’t secured properly. Police have also determined that she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that the most likely cause of the accident was Sanford’s use of her cell phone. High Point Lieutenant Chris Weisner said of this preventable tragedy, “In a matter of seconds, a life was over just so she could notify some friends that she was happy. As sad as it is, it is a grim reminder for everyone… you just have to pay attention while you are in the car.”


Despite Texting Bans, Distracted Driving is Still a Problem


Distracted Driving

In January 2014, Pew Research reported that 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and 58% of American adults have a smartphone. We’re living in a constantly connected culture, where people have become used to being able to reach their friends and family or access the internet wherever they go—even if they’re behind the wheel.


With anywhere from 387,000 to 421,000 Americans being injured in distracted driving-related accidents each year, state laws are finally beginning to catch up and discourage risky driving behavior. 43 states, as well as DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, currently ban all texting while driving (Florida enacted a texting ban just this last October). 12 states also prohibit the use of all handheld phones while driving, although hands-free devices like those that use Bluetooth are still acceptable.


Unfortunately, the penalties for texting and driving vary from state to state and are often not severe enough to deter drivers who are truly determined to use their phone while they’re on the go. In Florida, for example, texting while driving is only a secondary offense (meaning a police officer has to have a primary reason for pulling a driver over before ticketing them for texting), and a first-time offense results in a fine of $30—little more than a slap on the wrist. In North Carolina, where Sanford’s accident occurred, texting while driving is a primary offense, and violators face a $100 fine, as well as court costs. Although North Carolina’s law is stricter than Florida’s, it still was not a strong enough deterrent to keep Sanford from using Facebook while driving.


Technology distractions are still a huge problem for drivers, with the CDC estimating that 1 in 5 crashes resulting in injuries were caused by distracted driving. In spite of texting bans and statistics that prove how hazardous distracted driving is, drivers who want to use their phone continue to get into the mindset that they’re capable of multitasking behind the wheel.


We Think We Can Multitask (But We Can’t)


Talking on a Cellphone While Driving

Perhaps one of the most common rationales behind texting and driving is that the driver thinks they are “good at multitasking.” They may think that they’ve got glancing back and forth between their screen and the road down to a science, and that their acute perception makes them better at texting while driving than other people on the road.


In reality, the human brain doesn’t multitask in the way many of us think it does. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, has been working to bust the myth that people can successfully juggle multiple tasks at once. He told Psychology Today, “Our brains don’t do two things at once; instead, we rapidly switch between tasks, putting heavy burdens on attention, memory, and focus.” He added, “Talking on a cellphone while driving (perhaps the most ubiquitous type of multi-tasking) leaves people as cognitively impaired as if they’d had two or three drinks.”


Note that Mr. Strayer is discussing talking on the phone, an activity that doesn’t even take a driver’s eyes off the road. Texting or posting social media updates, which take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds, obviously creates an even bigger impairment.


What Will Get Drivers to Stop Texting?


Although it was a horrible event, Sanford’s fatal accident – which received wide coverage due to its tragic irony—will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to other drivers who have thus far paid little attention to state texting bans. Sanford’s accident shows just how quickly someone can go from using their phone while driving to losing their life, all because they couldn’t wait until they parked to update their Facebook status.


We can only hope that these personal, emotional stories hit home more than distracted driving statistics and texting laws have so far. Anyone who has ever texted or updated their Facebook status while driving should reflect on Sanford’s accident. Maybe doing this will help them to recognize that they put themselves and other drivers in a potentially dangerous situation by allowing technology to distract them. While many of us consider it a modern necessity to constantly be available to our online contacts, we need to remember that no matter what message we need to share, it can always wait until we get to our destination or find a spot to safely pull over.



Texting While Driving

New Technology Promises to Prevent Texting and Driving

Texting While Driving

Because cell phones and other mobile devices have become so well-integrated into our daily routines, we’ve grown accustomed to using them every chance we get—even behind the wheel. Whether out of reflex or a feeling of need to continue a conversation occurring via text, we do it all too often.


But the risk of texting or checking a phone while driving is too high. In fact, the time it takes for someone to glance down at their phone or text a reply is approximately 4.6 seconds, which is commonly compared to driving the length of a football field. That’s like putting a blindfold on when you’re behind the wheel for almost five seconds. Most people wouldn’t dream of doing that, but for some reason using a phone while driving is seen as perfectly okay by many.


According to studies conducted by experts, you are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if you are texting while driving compared to driving while not distracted. Today, 39 states in the U.S. have banned sending texts while driving. According to the National Safety Council, approximately 1,600,000 accidents per year are caused by texting while driving, in addition to 330,000 injuries per year and about 11 teen deaths every day. In fact, 25% of all car accidents that occur are texting-while-driving related.


Technology Companies Step In… To Block Technology


That is why big cellphone companies such as Verizon and AT&T have created numerous awareness campaigns and educational programs in order to get people, especially teens, to pledge never to text while driving. Some companies have also invented apps that claim to prevent distracted driving accidents from occurring.


Verizon’s new app, for example, called Safely Go, automatically receives and responds to calls and texts so that the driver can remain focused and responsible while on the road. AT&T’s Drive Mode limits the extra features on your phone and automatically sends pre-set replies to incoming texts,letting people know that you are driving. Additionally, the app blocks you from reading or typing anything and further silences all calls, texts, and emails. But these innovations go beyond cellphone companies trying to fix a problem they had a hand in creating – lots of other companies are getting involved as well: actually reads your texts, calls, or emails aloud and responds to them either by voice or with pre-set responses.


Textecution uses a GPS to determine speed and will automatically disable texting if you are traveling more than 10 mph.


Text-STARalso senses motion and disables texting when going above 10 mph, but goes above and beyond this by allowing you to schedule auto-reply texts in advance if you plan to be driving at a later time.


tXtBlocker allows users to go a different route by customizing the locations and times of day (such as typical commuting or driving times) when they don’t want texts and phone calls to be accepted.


Technology Can Help, but People Are Still Responsible


Car Accident Attorney

The Verizon website states, “Experience teaches us that technology innovation will provide more opportunities to address public safety issues like texting and driving.” However, it’s important to remember that the effectiveness of these apps rely mostly on the drivers’ willing and effective use of them as tools to keep themselves focused on the road. Nevertheless, there will always be distracted people on the road, and if one of them hits you, it’s vital that you get the expert legal help you need as soon as possible to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.


About the Author:
Jeffrey Braxton is a trial lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who has devoted his 22-year career to the practice of personal injury law. As lead trial attorney for The South Florida Injury Law Firm, Jeff has litigated thousands of cases and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of attorneys who have resolved cases in excess of one million dollars.