Drivers in Texas who tempt fate by texting and driving are likely to be nonwhite and educated. At least that's what the data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute bears out.
The study, released today and reported on by the Texas Tribune, surveyed 3,000 drivers and showed that nearly half of us have texted while operating a motor vehicle.
The researchers found that 76 percent of drivers said they had talked on a cellphone while driving at least once in the previous month, with 24 percent acknowledging that they did so regularly. Forty-four percent of respondents said they had read or typed texts or emails while driving, and 18.5 percent said they had looked at Facebook or other websites while driving.
For those of you checking Facebook while you drive with your kid in the back seat, we hate you. But we know so many people enjoy the fact that an occasional check of your phone, or a quickie reply on your cell, is a guilty pleasure in Houston. Others might consider it a cool point for living in a state (one of the seven remaining) without a driver-wide ban on texting from behind the wheel.
If you've ever been hit by a driver who texted, or got caught up in the latest "OMFG" text from your BFF just before rear-ending someone, then those cool points fly out the widow. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving --- you know, texting, checking Instagram with one hand on the wheel --- killed 3,328 people on roads in the U.S.
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While local figures for distracted-driving accidents weren't immediately available, an official with the Houston Police Department said there's been a rise in automobile accidents caused by drivers on their cell phones. It's a stat the department began tracking several years ago, Capt. Matthew May of the police traffic enforcement division said. "We are finding it is increasing year-to-year as an exact cause," he said.
And yes, believe it, if you're driving with your face in your cell phone, there's little police are allowed to do, May said (with the exception of school zones, where texting and driving is banned).
"Currently we don't have a traffic ordinance to use texting for probable cause for a traffic stop," he said. Police said they generally find out if someone used a cell phone through "self-reporting" or after an investigation.
It's one of the epidemics of our time. While state government works on crafting a bill that can pass the Senate, all we can do is be smart and fight the urge to be distracted cell-phone drivers. And seriously, if you're one of those who text or check on social media accounts (white, nonwhite, whatever your color) with kids in the car --- well, with anyone in the car, really --- don't talk to us.