This past Friday a pickup truck lost control in wet conditions on I–516 and crossed the median. The truck began rolling and slammed head–on into the SUV of a young Brooklet, Ga., couple, Stephen and Camie Joyner.
The passenger in the SUV was their daughter, three–year–old Dakota Joyner, who was taken to the hospital after the crash. Terrified and hurting and confused, the child couldn't be comforted by either of her parents. They were both dead.
In the space of a single heartbeat, a three–year–old became an orphan. A young family with a future full of shared memories to cherish and treasure was destroyed.
Dakota didn't just lose her parents that afternoon. According to reports her mother was pregnant when she died.
As is so often the case, the driver of the offending vehicle survived. Trever Chase Cannon, 22, of Bloomingdale, has also had his life changed. But he still has his life.
As of this writing, Savannah Metro Police conclude Cannon was "driving eastbound at a high rate of speed," which will surprise no one familiar with highway accidents.
I want to be very clear: I don't know what was going on in the cab of Cannon's Ford F–250 when he lost control. Currently an official investigation is underway to try to get as close to the truth as possible, but only Cannon knows the real story for sure.
But I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if texting was involved.
I do more than my share of highway driving, whether on road trips for my travel books or in visiting family members in various far–flung parts of the South. I can tell you without hyperbole that we're in the middle of a national epidemic.
Regardless of the specific cause of the I–516 tragedy, I firmly believe that texting while driving is the single biggest problem we face on the roads today.
So many times I've had to swerve to avoid a meandering vehicle, half in their lane and half in mine, its driver clawing at a smartphone the whole time.
So many times I've been tailgated, the other vehicle screaming up to my bumper, literally inches away. If it's dark out and they eventually pass, I see the telltale bluish glow in the interior, the driver hurtling blind through the night, staring dumbly down at their crotch.
So many times I've seen the tell–tale sign of texting and/or cellphone talking, i.e. constantly changing speed — one minute too slow, the other too fast.
It's gotten to the point I feel lucky when I see them using only one hand on the phone. Many times I see drivers texting with both hands, bringing new urgency to the old phrase "God is my co–pilot."
Don't get me wrong: I'm a text monster. I will text 'til the cows come home. But never in the car. I've done it once or twice. Never again, not after what I've seen.
(So why is Siri not helping? People still want to check texts before sending, she doesn't help with incoming texts, and she's just too awkward and cumbersome.)
Without trying to sound like the old man telling the kids to get off his lawn, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty who's doing the overwhelming majority of texting while driving: People under 30.
Drill down to the under–25 range, and it's more common than not to see them text while driving. As in, a majority of the youngest, most inexperienced drivers text while driving at some point.
As distressing as this is, it should come as no surprise. That's the generation which has grown up with smartphones and for whom texting isn't a novelty, but an essential part of human interaction.
(I say that without sarcasm; texting is extremely efficient in a number of ways. As are firearms. But both need reasonable regulation.)
Many of you might be angrily asking, what about drunk driving?
I in no way condone or trivialize drunk driving and the horrors it has brought to our highways. Drunk driving is indeed a major problem, but here's why texting is worse:
Drunk drivers aren't drunk every time they get behind the wheel. But people who text and drive usually do so nearly every single time they drive a car.
Drunk drivers know they're drunk and know it's against the law. Sometimes they overcompensate so they won't get caught or get in an accident. That's not the case with texters I've seen. In fact, when confronted they're usually very indignant and offended.
Drunk drivers aren't looking at a phone. To text while driving you have to take your eyes completely off the road and everything else on it. Numerous studies have shown that texting while driving reduces reaction time worse than several cocktails.
No Breathalyzer for texting (yet). Texting while driving is illegal in Georgia. But as any cop will tell you, unless he or she witnesses the texting it's almost impossible to enforce that law. Maybe one day we'll have technology that senses when a cellphone is in motion and can differentiate driver and passenger. Seems impossible, but the most basic free smartphone app today can do things unthinkable less than a decade ago.
As any of us who owns one will attest, smartphone users often develop intense personal bonds with their devices. They can also develop a stunning sense of entitlement — whether demanding that apps and music be free, or their inalienable "right" to post a Facebook status in heavy traffic at 85 mph.
Awareness–raising campaigns, a la Mothers Against Drunk Driving, are worth trying. But in the end peer pressure is likely to be the determining factor, as in most things.
Until texting while driving is a pariah activity — like indecent exposure or smoking around babies — we'll continue to mourn the death of innocents killed in accidents caused by it, and grieve for the suffering of those left behind.
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