WATE 6 On Your Side compares texting while driving to driving impaired

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Texting and driving has been a concern for years, but a deadly Knox County school bus crash highlighted the dangers of of texting and driving.

In December, a bus from Chilhowee Intermediate School crashed into a bus from Sunnyview Primary School killing 2 children and 1 adult. Investigative documents obtained from the Knox County District Attorney’s office revealed a string of angry text messages were sent moments before the crash.Previous stories:

The National Safety Council’s annual injury and fatality report found that the use of cell phones caused 26 percent of the nation’s car accidents. WATE 6 On Your side wanted to set how dangerous cell phone usage is compared to driving under the influence.More:Ready the National Safety Council’s full report

Texting while driving

With Knoxville Police Officer Keith Lyon in the passenger seat, I compared texting while driving, driving while using voice texting and driving with the police department’s DUI goggles to driving under normal conditions on the police departments test tracks. Cones were set up to represent a person, car or someone’s property.

The track is full of curves, tough enough to negotiate without the added distraction of texting, but I do okay, hitting no traffic cones. Next, we tested how far I could drive in four seconds while looking at my phone instead of the phone. In the span of just four seconds, or about 70 feet, I knocked over seven cones.

Looking back at video, I also found that I held the steering wheel differently just to be able to text.

Is voice texting safer than texting while driving?

Most agree hands free is safer than punching in a text while behind the wheel. Even so, we didn’t come through unscathed, knocking over cones.

In this test Officer Lyon surprised me with a realistic addition to the test. When I started voice texting, he started talking, like what you would hear in a car full of teens.

“That sort of thing happens in cars,” said Lyon. “You have a conversation going on and then a conversation on the phone too.”

Texting compared to drunk driving

I put on Knoxville Police Departments so called “DUI Goggles” before hitting the track again. The goggles simulated what physical functions are lost when you are impaired by simulating blurriness and double vision.

While performing this simulation I remembered words from Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen. She said that “most of the statistics that you see will tell you that texting and driving is worse than drunk driving.”

While driving with Knoxville Police Department’s DUI goggles I knocked over one traffic cone. While texting and driving I hit seven.

State laws for distracted driving

The results of my test really brought home General Allen’s message about the dangers of texting and driving.

Right now it is illegal in 14 states to use a cell phone while driving. Tennessee is not one of those states Allen said she wants to change that. She said she’s working to change that law.

“So texting perhaps should be 48 hours in jail,” said Allen. “Maybe we go with a felony, maybe we go with misdemeanor jail time or maybe we change the law completely to say no cell phone use at all.”

General Allen and her staff are working on a legislative proposal to take to the state district attorney general’s conference made up of 31 district attorney’s in Tennessee. The goal is to present the proposal to state lawmakers when the Tennessee General Assembly meets in January.

Driving courses for teenagers

Most insurance companies offer drivers a discount for taking a driving class.

Knoxville Police Department offers a driving course for teenagers. For more information on classes contact Michelle Goldsberry at (865) 215-1308.

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