- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

Much of the nation is tapping into dangerous territory, and it’s no LOL matter.

More than one-quarter of mobile-phone users are guilty of DWT - driving while texting, according to research released Wednesday.

Despite bans on the practice in seven states and the District of Columbia, 26 percent of drivers still drum out messages on their phones - even though 83 percent of drivers say the practice should be illegal, according to a “mobile messaging habits” survey by Vlingo, an electronics company.

The most potentially distracted audience of all are the worst offenders. Six-out-of-10 teenage drivers text behind the wheel, along with 49 percent of those ages 20 to 29. Women text more than men, 28 percent to 25 percent, respectively.

But the habit decreases with the age of drivers; among those in their 50s, the rate drops to 13 percent, among drivers in their 60s, it’s 7 percent.

The worst DWT offenders are in Tennessee, where 42 percent attempt to tap and steer at once; Arizona has the lowest rate at 18 percent. In Maryland, the rate is 21 percent; in Virginia, it’s 26 percent. Rates for the District were not given.

Laws to ban DWT are pending or under consideration in 26 states.

“In just one year, the public conversation about the issue of DWT has escalated, particularly in the wake of some high-profile accidents,” said Dave Grannan, chef executive officer of Vlingo. “Texting is such an integral component of our daily lives, and the cautionary tales about DWT danger have not stemmed the tide.”

A Massachusetts trolley car accident earlier this month that injured 49 was caused by a driver texting his girlfriend; the local transit company has now barred drivers of all public vehicles from even carrying a cell phone while on the job. In September, a California commuter train driver lost control of the train and collided with a freight train while texting, killing 25 and injuring 135.

Most of these messages are fairly routine. The Vlingo survey found that 72 percent of texts are sent to friends, a spouse or a partner, while 16 percent go to children. Fewer than 4 percent are work-related. There was no category for emergencies.

“Distracted driving” - a category that includes eating and cell phone use while driving - has troubled the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a decade. The agency says such extra activities are a contributing factor in 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes.

The volume is huge, meanwhile. Americans sent about a trillion text messages in 2008 - triple the amount sent just in 2007 - or about 3.5 million a day, according to CTIA, the wireless communications industry’s trade group.

The survey of 4,816 phone users was conducted from January to March and has a margin of error of 1.4 percentage points.

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