The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Texting while driving ban eyed by national group

  • Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton knows from experience that driving and cell phone use can be a dangerous combination.

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  • Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton knows from experience that driving and cell phone use can be a dangerous combination.

    He shares a story about a deputy who was making a traffic stop a year or two ago on Interstate 135 when a car traveling southbound on the highway slammed into the deputy’s vehicle. The driver had been reading a text message and didn’t notice the deputy’s vehicle, even though its lights were flashing.

    “He drove right into the back end of the deputy’s vehicle,” Walton said. “Luckily, no one got hurt.”

    Although this incident didn’t end in tragedy, accidents involving cell phones have claimed lives. The Associated Press reported about a 19-year-old pickup truck driver last year in Missouri who sent or received 11 texts in 11 minutes before causing a fatal highway pile-up. Two people were killed, including the pickup’s teenage driver, and almost 40 other people were injured.

    The state of Kansas already has banned texting while driving and placed restrictions on cell phone use by underage drivers, and now the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended all cell phone use by all drivers be banned.

    According to the Associated Press, State Sen. Les Donovan, R-


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    Wichita, a longtime member of the Senate’s

    Transportation Committee, is skeptical this recommendation will pass.

    “I just don’t think that we’re anywhere close to banning cell phone use in a car,” he said. “It’s become too much of a personal tool that everybody uses.”

    However, University of Kansas psychology professor Paul Atchley believes the recommendation will eventually pass.

    “It will happen,” Atchley said. “It will just take time.”

    He said accidents caused by distracted drivers cost the state economy $500 million in 2009, if deaths, injuries and property damage were translated into a dollar amount. He’s convinced cell phone use contributed to a large number of those crashes, which is why he thinks the state eventually will prohibit drivers from using them.

    “It’s based on solid evidence,” he said. “It’s based on too many tragedies that have happened already.”

    Local perspective

    Even if a ban is passed, local law enforcement officers believe it may be challenging to enforce.

    Corporal Paul Jones with the Newton Police Department said it can be difficult to prove cell phones or texting were involved in an accident, unless the person using the cell phone is willing to admit it. It’s easy for someone to quickly hang up a cell phone or stick it in a pocket or purse.

    “I think I’ve suspected it in a couple instances, but haven’t been able to prove it,” he said.

    “It’s very hard to tell,” Sheriff Walton agreed.

    Although Jones thinks drunk driving still is the most serious roadway hazard, he said drivers distracted by cell phones can be deadly.

    “I think it has the potential to be as dangerous,” he said.

    Whether or not a cell phone ban is passed in Kansas, Walton and Jones both urged local drivers to use caution and be alert to distractions that may be drawing their attention away from where it matters.

    “It’s inherently dangerous not to keep your eyes on the road or other drivers,” Jones said.

    “You’re driving a vehicle at high speeds,” Walton added. “... And it doesn’t take much to deviate from your path to cause a major accident.”

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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