KNOXVILLE (AP) — Forces are assembling to urge the Tennessee Legislature to curb people from using their cell phones while driving.
In a first for the organization, AAA East Tennessee will lobby lawmakers next year to ban texting.
Meanwhile, a new University of Tennessee student group is calling for bans on both cell conversations and texting by drivers and has plans to work in tandem with AAA.
Though efforts to restrict cell phone use in Tennessee have failed, the two groups say studies released in the past few years show driver distraction is a deadly issue that shouldn’t be ignored.
“Everything we’ve found out about this just increases our passion,” said University of Tennessee public health graduate student Kristin Kelly, 24.
She cites a Harvard University study estimating about 2,600 people die each year on American highways from talking on the phone or texting. A University of Utah study compared cell phoning in a car to driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content.
The actual toll in Tennessee is starting to show up in traffic statistics.
In Knoxville, police documented 24 cell phone-related wrecks in 2007 out of 11,979 total crashes. They’ve recorded 11 cell phone-related accidents so far out of 8,056 crashes in 2008.
Statewide, documented cell phone-related crashes rose between 2003 and 2006, then declined in preliminary 2007 findings, which have not yet been updated to include all crashes.
Department of Safety spokeswoman Laura McPherson and Knoxville police spokesman Darrell DeBusk said their cell phone crash figures likely are undercounts.
“That’s only the ones where the driver admitted it,” DeBusk said. “Are there more? Yeah, probably so.”
State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, has offered a bill banning the use of handheld cell phones nearly every year for the past 10. He believes someday the Legislature will pass such a bill, but to this point his efforts have basically gone nowhere.
“The argument is usually that it’s also dangerous to eat French fries and put makeup on,” Burchett said.
His bill banning text messaging proved particularly unpopular with one of his constituents.
“My wife threatened to leave me,” Burchett joked.
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com
Published in The Messenger 11.17.08