Texting and driving: An update

Texting and driving can be a deadly combination, and it’s an unfortunate reality Cora Villalobos knows firsthand.

Her daughter, Lisa Marie Wilson, was killed in a car accident on Highway 49 in 2011 after she drove off the road, overcorrected and collided head-on with a pickup truck. Following the accident, Villalobos discovered that Wilson had been texting her boyfriend at the time of the accident.

“Lisa died two-and-a-half years ago,” Villalobos said. “It feels like yesterday and like forever at the same time. … It’s hard to put into words the way we still feel and hurt for our daughter.”

Cell phones have become a near-ubiquitous accessory for most drivers who get behind the wheel these days. And that increase in use also increases the dangers.

“When I’m in my personal car, I still see it,” said Rebecca Myers, officer with the California Highway Patrol. “I still see people with (a phone) up to their ear.”

New technologies allow users a host of options to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and eyes on the road including Bluetooth ear pieces that have a microphone built in, as well as late-model cars that have phone capabilities built into their systems.

“But there are still those people, even with all those technologies, who want to hold that phone in their hand,” Myers said. “They don’t think they’re going to get caught, but there’s going to be one day where you’re either going to be getting a ticket or getting into an accident.”

As part of its public safety campaign, the highway patrol provides presentations to drivers’ education classes at area high schools about the dangers of distracted driving.

“We also have a program called Start Smart,” Myers said. “It’s along the same lines, just more in-depth and the parents come. We talk about the hazards of driving and the consequences of decisions made behind the wheel.”

A lot of insurance companies have gotten on board with the CHP’s campaign, offering reduced insurance rates for students who participate. As part of the program, officers also detail the specifics of the law.

“You can’t have your phone in your hand – period,” Myers explained. “You can’t be texting. You can’t be making a phone call. You can’t be looking at your GPS. You can’t even look to see what time it is.”

According to Myers, you can push a button to answer a call, so long as the phone is secured on a dashboard stand or is being used with Bluetooth technology. You can also push a button to turn it off or to activate voice commands.

Drivers who need to make an emergency call to law enforcement, the fire department or a hospital will be exempted from the law. Emergency services professionals can use cell phones while operating an authorized emergency vehicle in the scope of their duties. School bus and transit drivers are also exempted.

Finally, anyone driving on private property is free to use their cell phone at will.

Other than those limited instances, cell phones cannot be used while driving and with good reason.

“When you text and drive, it takes your eyes off the road, on average, five seconds at a time,” explained Tully Lehman, spokesman for the Insurance Information Net-work of California. “At 60 mph, you’ve traveled the length of a football field in that five seconds and a lot can happen in that time.”

While driving, the rule of thumb is to leave two seconds between the car being driven and the car in front.

“If it takes five seconds for a text, that doesn’t leave much time,” Lehman said.

On the winding roads of Calaveras County, this timeline leaves little room for error.

“These roads are not forgiving if you get those tires off of them,” Myers said. “We don’t have the nice 10-foot shoulders the freeways have.”

While two-lane highways make it more difficult to detect cell phone use by drivers, officers know the dangers, and they remain vigilant in trying to enforce the law in order to help citizens avoid the potentially fatal repercussions.

“We need to keep reminding everyone, not just teens, that texting and driving is dangerous and you can die,” Villalobos said. “Anything distracting you from focusing on the road puts you and other innocent drivers at risk of being killed.

“Our son Jonathan just had his first child, which is normally a very happy occasion and it was, but at the same time, it was very sad for us, knowing she will never know her auntie. That is every day for us since Lisa Marie died. And she left behind two beautiful little girls who love her and miss her so much.”

To read the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ law on cell phones, visit dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/v23123.htm.

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