46% of teens ages 16 and 17 have text-messaged while they drive, according to a survey by AAA and "Seventeen" magazine

Dispatch story after the jump.

46% of teens ages 16 and 17 have text-messaged while they drive, according to a survey by AAA and “Seventeen” magazine

Dispatch story after the jump.

POTENTIAL DANGER ON ROADS Many teens admit texting while driving

Thursday, July 19, 2007

By Bryan Wroten THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Shani Hadjian, 20, does it only at stoplights.

Louie Poccile, 17, has seen people do it on the freeway.

Katherine Smith, 20, has someone else do it for her.

These young people at the Bexley pool were talking yesterday about text-messaging while driving, a fairly common practice among teens, according to a recent survey by the AAA and Seventeen magazine. Of 1,000 teens ages 16 and 17 interviewed nationwide, 46 percent said they have text-messaged while they drive.

"As a law-enforcement officer, it doesn't scare me," said Lt. Edward DeVennish of the Columbus Police Division's traffic bureau. "As a motorist, it scares the put-in-your-own-word out of me."

Text-messaging while driving was the center of a nationwide debate after five high-school graduates in New York were killed in a car crash last month. Records show that a text message was sent from the driver's cell phone minutes before the car hit a truck, making authorities question whether texting was the cause.

"There are only 1.3 seconds to brake in time," said Officer Roger Foor of the traffic bureau. "That's just enough time to look away and back."

If a driver is text-messaging and the car in front suddenly brakes, he said, "it's a done deal."

In Ohio, except where banned by individual cities, the use of cell phones while driving is legal.

Lt. Tony Bradshaw of the State Highway Patrol said troopers cannot stop a driver who is texting. However, if they cross the centerline or commit some other infraction because of the distraction, the trooper can cite them for that moving violation.

In the AAA- Seventeen study, 51 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds said they talk on the phone while driving. Texting, however, requires the user to take his or her eyes off the road longer.

Despite the danger, some drivers still choose to text.

Matt Loy, 18, of Bexley, said he was in a car when his friend, who was driving, received a text message.

"He asked me to take the wheel," Loy said.

He said he grabbed the wheel while his friend replied. After his friend finished, Loy offered to drive the next time the friend wanted to text.

Jennifer Main, 20, of Springfield, said she sometimes responds to a message while driving without even thinking about it. She's gotten pretty good at memorizing the keypad so she can text back without looking at her phone, she said.

The percentage of teens who text-message while driving doesn't surprise DeVennish. And if a survey showed older drivers did it as much, that wouldn't surprise him either, he said.

Distracted drivers are a problem, no matter how they're diverting their attention from the road, DeVennish said.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety doesn't collect statistics on accidents caused by text-messaging. That behavior would fall under "driver inattention," which caused 9,380 accidents in 2006. Fourteen of those crashes resulted in fatalities.

Copyright © 2007, The Columbus Dispatch