Nine-year-old Erica Forney was riding her bike home from school in 2008 on the last day of classes before the Thanksgiving break. She was in a bicycle lane just a few pedal pushes from home, in Fort Collins, Colo., when she was hit by a Ford Expedition driven by a woman who, police say, was looking down at her cell phone.
Erica was flung in the air, fell on a curb, and suffered severe head trauma. She died two days later, on Thanksgiving Day. "She was an amazing kid," says her mother, Shelley Forney. "She had 10 different careers she wanted to do and she loved making everyone laugh."
In 2008 almost 6,000 people died and more than half a million people were
injured on U.S. roads in crashes that involved distracted drivers. Distracted driving
is defined as anything that takes the driver's hands off the wheel or eyes off the road for more than 2 seconds or interrupts concentration.
Those numbers may not even capture the full picture; they're based on drivers
who admitted to some sort of distracting activity before an accident.
Using a cell phone while driving--whether it's handheld or hands-free--delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 (the legal limit for drivers 21 and older in all states), according to research from the University of Utah.
Texting while driving is even worse. It involves the three types of activities that
distract drivers the most: visual (looking away from the road), manual (punching
keys on a wireless device), and cognitive (reading or composing a text message).
Seven states and Washington, D.C., have banned the use of a handheld cell
phone while driving. Texting while driving is prohibited in 20 states and D.C.
Among the remaining states, six actually prohibit local jurisdictions from passing
At Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, we believe that legislative and regulatory solutions are needed immediately. For some the temptation to text while driving is so strong that, unless there are stiff penalties, the problem is not going to get better.
There are no federal laws yet, but Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood
has launched a web site called Distraction.gov to gather legislative news and information. He wants a ban on texting while driving. The Department of Transportation has also created a sample of a state law banning texting while driving, which is available at Distraction.gov.
If you want to help tackle this problem, here are some suggestions for what you can do:
1. Check out sites like Distraction.gov and FocusDriven.org to learn how to spread the word.
2. Ask your state legislature to pass -- and ask your governor to sign -- a law banning texting while driving
3. Talk to young drivers in your family. Younger people who have grown up with cell phones are at great risk. Make them aware of the dangers, and ask them to promise never to text while driving, and to pull over if they need to make a call.
4. Finally, and most simply: when you're behind the wheel, put down the phone.