Texting has become such a commonplace and constant activity for so many people that it may be hard to think of it as a killer.
But that’s essentially what texting can become when it coincides with driving. That point was tragically reinforced by the December 2014 fatal school bus crash in Knoxville, Tennessee, according to the newly released results of the police investigation.
As we reported on Friday, Knoxville Police Department investigators found that school bus driver James Davenport sent and received multiple text messages in the time leading up to the Dec. 2 crash, in which Davenport’s bus made a sharp turn, crossed over a concrete median and struck another school bus.
Two students and an aide were killed. Davenport, 48, died on June 1, although it was not yet clear whether his death was related to the crash.
Investigators’ findings showed that Davenport was engaging in an activity that is dangerously distracting but all too common. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey, at any daylight moment across the nation, about 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute gave this assessment of the issue: Text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times and resulted in drivers taking their eyes off the road for an average of 23 seconds total.
More sobering statistics from NHTSA: In 2013, 3,154 people were killed and about 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted drivers (not limited to texting).
What makes these statistics all the more tragic is that many of these crashes could easily have been prevented — especially those that were caused by texting. Keep your hands on the wheel and off of your phone. It’s that simple.
I know how tempting it is, when your phone chimes or buzzes, to just take a quick look at that new text or email that came in. This message is a reminder for me as well as anyone. Whether we’re driving a school bus or a personal vehicle, we can avoid that temptation by keeping our cell phones stowed away somewhere — such as in a glove compartment or in a bag or purse that’s out of reach.
By texting while driving on Dec. 2, as investigators found, James Davenport succumbed to the same temptation that many other drivers succumb to every day. But that day, three people lost their lives: Zykia Burns, 6; Seraya Glasper, 7; and Kimberly Riddle, 46.
Davenport died half a year after the crash. One can only imagine the guilt and agony that must have burdened him for those last six months of his life. And yet the crash victims’ families are left to grieve their losses and to carry the memory of that devastating day for the rest of their lives.
May we all think of the Knoxville crash families the next time our phones threaten to distract us while driving.
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