In an effort to create more awareness about highway safety in Tennessee, Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron and county commission are expected to sign a recently passed resolution next month stating their opposition to texting while driving.
AT&T began the "It Can Wait" campaign in 2009 to promote safer driving habits. As of earlier this year, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and more than 200 other organizations have joined AT&T's endeavors, Alan Hill, AT&T regional director, said. The plan is to have all 95 counties in the state and the Tennessee County Services Association sign similar resolutions before Sept. 19, which is the It Can Wait National Day of Action, he said.
Hill said drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a wreck if they are texting while driving, and more than 100,000 wrecks a year involve texting.
"We're just trying to get the word out, honestly," Hill said. "You know, people can get a ticket for it and sometimes they do (stop). It's hard to tell. I think from a law enforcement standpoint, it's hard to tell if somebody's (texting). You know, it's legal to talk on the phone (and drive). It's not legal to text and drive. ... It's getting as bad as driving under the influence. We applaud the support of the Loudon County Commission and Mayor Herron by passing the resolution."
And the problem is not just with teenagers. Forty-seven percent of adults are texting while driving, too, Hill added.
Herron said she hopes signing the resolution will let people know this is increasingly becoming an issue.
An average text takes five seconds to complete, Hill said. If someone is driving 55 mph, taking their eyes off the road for five seconds is like traveling the length of a football field, he said.
"I'm so thankful the state of Tennessee is finally bringing attention to this," Herron said. "I don't think that it will eliminate it all, but I do think that the more publicity that we can get out there to everyone about texting and driving, it will draw more attention to the issue. And hopefully it will make them think before they do."
The National Safety Council recently listed Tennessee as the worst state for wrecks involving cellphone use. In 2011, the NSC reported 10.6 percent of the wrecks in Tennessee involved cellphone usage. The national average is 1.2 percent. Tennessee may write more citations than other states, but the 9.4 percentage differential is still a problem, Hill said.
Tony Arden, Loudon County Sheriff's Office administrative captain, said texting while driving can be dangerous, and police officers are taking action to lessen cellphone usage related wrecks.
"If we can see them (texting while driving) -- I mean, there has been cases where they went to jail if they came out of an accident," Arden said. "But we're writing citations for texting while driving if we see them doing it and know for a fact that's what they're doing."
More than 1 million people have agreed to never text while driving, Hill said. Those interested can go to the "It Can Wait" campaign website and pledge their commitment.
"Texting while driving is not only a serious issue, it is against the law in Tennessee," Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said. "But we continue to have terrible accidents here in Loudon County and across the state. The Loudon County resolution to support the It Can Wait National Day of Action and the 'no-texting-while-driving' movement is a great way to raise awareness of this dangerous practice and for all of us to commit not to text and drive."