The dangers associated with texting while driving have often been likened to those of drinking and driving. Now, Florida's Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority has taken that comparison a step further with the launch of a "Designated Texter" campaign designed to curb distracted driving.
The idea, as the name indicates, is for the person behind the wheel to pass his or her phone off to someone who can respond to text messages while the driver stays focused on the road.
"We're hoping that people will take action and make the pledge," Jeff Marshall, a spokesman for the Expressway Authority, told the Orlando Sentinel. "The goal is to motivate others to follow that behavior."
Though the Florida campaign encourages people to take an official pledge online and share stories about why they're doing so, the idea of appointing a designated texter is not an entirely new one. As Portland's KGW.com previously reported, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a similar campaign last summer called "Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks."
At the time, some teens told the news outlet that even without the formal campaign, they'd already adopted the practice of asking another person in the car to take over texting duties.
“If I’m driving and I need to find directions or ask my parents where they are, I’ll just give my phone to someone in my car and ask them to do it,” Benjamin Davis, a teen driver told KGW.com last summer.
According to Distraction.gov, the United States government's informational website, research has shown those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be "involved in a safety-critical event" than those driving while not distracted. (A driver's eyes are off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds while he or she is sending or receiving text messages.)
In an often-cited 2009 experiment, Car and Driver magazine decided to test out how drinking and driving compared to texting while driving by measuring the reaction times of subjects to a stimulus meant to mimic a car hitting the brake lights.
The results? The drivers were slower to hit the brakes when they were texting or emailing than when they were drunk. One driver's reaction time while reading a text on his phone left him braking 30 feet farther down the road than his baseline, compared to 15 feet farther down the road when he was drunk.
Despite some of the frightening statistics, there are indications that teens are aware of how dangerous texting and driving can be. A recent survey by Statefarm Insurance found that 78 percent of teens said they'd spoken up while in car with a friend who was distracted while driving.
Still, a recent survey of 5,500 teens found that 26 percent of teens read or send text at least once while driving. One in five teens admitted to having extended correspondence with multiple texts.