Earlier this year, in a rural area of West Texas, 20-year-old Jack D. Young turned his smartphone into a weapon when he texted while driving. He veered into the oncoming lane of traffic and killed 13 senior citizens on their way home from a church retreat.
The senior choir members, all between the ages of 61 and 87, were returning from an annual retreat at Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, Texas when the accident occurred near Garner State Park in Concan. All but one of the fatalities occurred at the site of the crash; the other, hours later at the hospital.
The 2004 bus carrying members of the First Baptist Church in New Braunfels, Texas and a 2007 Dodge dually pickup truck collided head-on when the truck crossed the center line, according to Lt. Johnny Hernandez, Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Jody Kuchler was driving behind the truck and had seen it moving erratically prior to the collision on a two-lane road about 75 miles west (120 km) of San Antonio, near the town of Concan. Kuchler said the truck crossed the center line several times as he followed it.
He called the sheriff’s offices for both Uvalde and Real counties while he followed the truck and told them “they needed to get (the driver of the truck) off the road before he hits somebody.”
Kuchler said he witnessed the crash and afterward, he checked on both the bus and the truck and was able to speak with the truck driver. “‘Son, do you know what you just did?’ I asked him. He said, ‘I’m sorry I’m sorry, I was texting.’” Kuchler quoted.
This year the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 62 making it illegal to text or email while driving throughout the state. The law went into effect on September 1, 2017. Texas is the 47th state to ban texting while driving. Only Arizona, Missouri, and Montana have yet to outlaw this dangerous activity.
Texting has been directly linked to 1.6 million accidents nationwide every year and is responsible for 11 deaths of teenagers every day across the United States. We know the statistics; texting makes you 23 times more likely to have an accident. It makes you 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving while drunk.
It’s more than just texting or emailing while driving. People are checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos. Having access to technology as a whole reduces your focus on the road.
Consider the laws in your respective state. The new law in Texas could have a big impact on how accident liability is handled too. Texas is a comparative negligence state – in effect, fault is based on what caused the accident. That means that in Texas, where a modified comparative fault rule is used, people injured in a car accident cannot recover damages from the other party if they are 51 percent or more at fault for the accident.
So, if you are texting, emailing, or otherwise distracted when hit by another vehicle, you may still be considered at fault.
Texting, surfing, emailing, and chatting in the car are a part of our “always on” society that values fast replies, pithy comments, and status updates about our every activity and emotion.
If you find yourself unable to control your “social urges” while you drive, try some of these strategies for breaking the habit:
- Turn off your phone while driving. Give it a rest.
- Put your phone out of reach.
- Hand your phone to a passenger and let them be the phone pilot.
- Set auto-replies for texts and emails, then mute the alerts.
We hear and read the warnings, yet we continue to be distracted drivers. Jack Young will carry that with him for the rest of his life.
Choose to arrive alive. Don’t text and drive. That text can wait!