If you text, drive - we're lucky to be alive

(U.S. Air Force Graphic/Tech. Sgt. Trevor Tiernan)

Texting takes drivers' eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour that's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blind, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. (U.S. Air Force Graphic/George Serna)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- They can't go anywhere without doing it. Their daily routine revolves around doing it. They'd rather be doing it than most anything else. They can't live without doing it.

They're texters...I call them addicts.

I have a real problem with their "addiction" when they attempt to drive. Notice I said attempt, because no one can safely operate a motor vehicle AND text simultaneously. I don't care how adroitly talented they think they are. Texters are only pretending to be drivers behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

What I still can't figure out is, in spite of all the irrefutable statistical proof to the contrary, there are countless people who think they can drive safely while texting. Who are they kidding?

Numbers don't lie. Texting takes drivers' eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour that's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blind. According to an experiment conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, several of the 42 study participants crashed while writing a text message or reading one. Based on the time it took motorists to push a button when a light blinked, both activities caused delays.

Even an old-schooler like me can live with the technological advances making our world a more convenient and efficient place. That's progress. But, I draw the line when a high-tech toy is a blatant safety hazard.

Outside of a life-and-death emergency, there is absolutely NO text message important enough to warrant any driver diverting their attention from the job at hand - piloting a ton of unforgiving metal hurtling down the road at destructive speed. That alone has my FULL attention, as it should all drivers.

Disagree? Then go tell that to the family members of the more than 450 people killed in 2012 by drivers who just HAD to text someone, that according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

That's the point. These texting addicts haven't figured out the common sense difference between wants and needs. Too many people have become dependent on their gadgets. Why? Pressure from companies who, through their advertising, say consumers NEED the latest upgrade to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Besides buckling up the only thing motorists NEED to do is keep their eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel!

Unfortunately, texting is just the tip of the distracted driving iceberg. A driver's sole responsibility behind the wheel is to safely get from point A to point B. A vehicle is not a restaurant, a vanity or an office -- and definitely not a phone booth.

Enter the military. The Department of Defense has tried to curb the problem among its ranks. But, the mission is still not accomplished.

In 2006 I wrote a similar opinion on the deadly use of cell phones while driving. Back then I applauded the newly implemented Joint Traffic Regulation Air Force Instruction entitled "Driver Distractions." Finally, I said, something with teeth that'll hopefully take a bite out of the blatant disregard for safety cell phone abusers exhibit while driving on DOD installations."

The reg makes it unlawful to use a hand-held cell phone while driving inside the gate.

However, the theory that using hands-free phones while driving is safer, has been challenged by several studies. Results have shown drivers are getting a false sense of security using hands-free devices. Researchers found drivers are less likely to remember pedestrians or roadside features, plus they have slower reaction times while braking and accelerating.

Fast forward to 2009 when President Obama signed into law an Executive Order banning text messaging while driving by federal employees. It stated: "Federal employees shall not engage in text messaging (a) when driving GOVs, or when driving POVs while on official government business, or (b) when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving."

Last July former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy wrote in his Enlisted Perspective: Analog leadership in digital times, "We value technology...but we must also recognize its potential to strip us of critical human connection skills. We have to understand how and when not to use technology, because when distracted by it we are not as well equipped to relate to others."

That includes relating to other drivers.

If the Commander-In-Chief and a former CMSAF get it then why don't the masses?

I say there's been more than enough information and education, not to mention all the injuries and deaths, to dissuade drivers from this deadly practice. But, judging by the number of drivers, military and civilian alike, who still ignore the rationale for not texting while driving, the information/education approach alone isn't working. There are times, like this, when the public needs to be protected from itself. That's why we have laws.

Currently, 39 states have laws totally banning all drivers from texting and driving. Six states, including Texas, have partial bans while four states have no ban

All drivers in Texas are prohibited from using handheld cellular devices in the roadways where areas are marked as school crossing zones. Plus, drivers younger than 18 may not use any wireless devices when behind the wheel on Texas roads.

Within the city limits of San Antonio texting and driving is prohibited. Fines can be levied up to $200.

Fines aside, drivers cannot afford to be distracted, period. There is no gray area where traffic safety is concerned. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't deserve to carry a license.

A few years ago my teenage son Devin, sensing my frustration with this epidemic, bought me a bumper sticker with a crossed out circle over a cell phone and the words HANG UP AND DRIVE. Instead of slapping it on my Kia, I show it to drivers next to me at stop lights off base while they're texting away, hoping they'll see it as their wake up call to get back to the serious business of driving. Being told to "blank"-off is a small price I gladly pay to prevent tragedy down the road.

It amazes me drivers are so wrapped up in their "important" texts, they're oblivious to the danger they pose, not only to themselves, but others around them. They may have a death wish, but don't take me and my family along for the ride.

Convenience versus safety is a no-brainer, folks. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, I'm sure there will always be motorists who feel they can handle self-imposed distractions - right up until a crash doesn't let them LOL anymore.