Teens and texting: A deadly combination on our roads

Dave Belton is a Morgan County school board member worried about teens texting while driving in the aftermath of the death of college student in his district. Texting is suspected in two recent accidents. (Read the AJC story on the accidents, one of which involved a death.)

Here is an op-ed piece that he wrote and that will appear in the AJC on the education page Monday:

By Dave Belton

He was driving down one of the gentle roads that meander through our sleepy pastures here in Morgan County.

Coming home for Christmas after a great freshman year at college, he couldn’t wait to tell his mama how many A’s he’d earned.

An athlete, a scholar — the kind of boy you hope your daughter brings home.
Things were going so well, he recently had called his grandmother and told her, “I’m the luckiest guy alive.”

A quick text to his beautiful girlfriend and …

The walls of the church groaned at the size of the funeral. The brave father told me, “I wish there was some way to spread the word.”

A mourner asked, “We’ve lost a child. Isn’t that enough? What more needs to happen before we do something?”
In a legislative session sure to yield few positive results due to the current budget crisis, wouldn’t it be nice if Georgia passed a law against teenagers’ fastest growing killer — texting behind the wheel.

Oprah’s talking about it. Recently, she featured a couple whose daughter was cut down by a careless driver talking on a cell phone, a few yards from their house.
Law firms and cell phone companies are erecting billboards, and parents of the slain — grieving at their loss — are mobilizing in huge numbers.

Most states have laws against cell phones behind the wheel. A bill aimed at teens passed the Georgia House last March, but stalled. Now, two
more texting bills have been introduced. It’s time to advance those bills.

The statistics are alarming. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 80 percent of automobile accidents are cause by driver distraction — and what could be more distracting than texting? When researchers tell us cell phone use behind the wheel makes a driver four times more likely to get into a crash, it is easy to see why teens are being hit so hard.

According to Car and Driver magazine, the reaction time of someone texting while driving is three times worse than when legally drunk and the stopping distance goes from 4 to 70 feet.

More disturbing is the breadth of the menace. Several studies confirm nearly half of all teens text while driving.
Cell phones are involved in 1.6 million accidents a year, causing half a million injuries and 6,000 deaths, according to the Department of Transportation.

The motor vehicle death rate of teens caused by cell phones is 21 percent and rising by an astonishing 4 percent a year.

That means 50 Georgia teens will die this year on their cell phones.

I don’t like “nanny state” laws any more than you do. And some might see this as an infringement of your rights. I respect that view.

But driving is a privilege, not a right. Those who argue that laws don’t matter ought to review the history of seat belt usage. Since New York passed the first mandatory seat belt law in 1984, usage in this country has risen to 83 percent and thousands of lives have been saved.

The reckless endangerment of other people’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind.
If you think — as I do — that one needlessly lost life is one too many, I urge you to contact your representatives and tell them to pass these bills.

Do it today, while the session is fresh and legislative agendas are forming.

A fine young man — his name was Caleb — is dead.
Isn’t that enough?

Dave Belton is a Republican board of education member in Morgan County

23 comments Add your comment


January 31st, 2010
5:41 pm

Happens all the time. No need for alarm:



January 31st, 2010
7:58 pm

During the last 4 years I taught before retiring, I rode in a carpool, and everyday when it was my carpool partner’s turn to drive, she stayed on the phone the entire time during the 25 mile commute. There was little use in talking to her about it because she never stopped. It was nerve-wracking listening to her conversations and worrying about her ability to react to an emergency on the expressway while traveling at 80+ miles and hour, so I decided to eat the gas costs and drive alone in peace and quiet. Some people tend to think that they can handle driving while talking/texting until an emergency situation occurs, and it’s then too late to do anything about it. I do not use/answer my phone when I drive, and it works for me.

Ole Guy

January 31st, 2010
9:10 pm

Is it fair or logical to, on one hand, praise the kid up one side and down the other when, the fact is, by his very own stupidity, he took his own life. This sensless loss cannot be attributed to anything else…the fact that Ga legislators have yet to see fit to give the matter any real thought much less enact yet another law mandating common sense, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the kid, despite his achievements, exercised extremely poor judgement.

Now I certainly do not mean to come across as cold-hearted and cruel, but simply as a realist. The reality is that 1) Education and laws don’t work. People are going to do what they want to do; it’s that simple. We’ve all, at one time or another, “stretched the envelope”…ran that stop sign at o’dark thirty, exceeded the speed limit by a lot, etc. We do so with the knowledge that consequence(s) could result; we usually “get away with it”. 2) Here’s my broken record again: as kids, we are bombarded with all sort of rules and regs…do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. What happens when we go awry of these rules? Are actions initiated which, in both the short and long runs, lead to the discipline to do the right thing? Obviously, despite bottomless warnings and hollow reprimands, this type of discipline has all but become nonexistent…almost old fashioned. Consequently, the public, in reaction to this sort of tragedy, assumes the same type reaction as exemplified by Jeff’s words, “Happens all the time. No need for alarm”.

Therein lies the big problem…no one’s alarmed: not our legislators, who see no need in wasting time on a law which no one is prone to obey, not the adult world who has become so afraid of losing their kids’ “friendship” that they fail to impress, upon those kids, in absolutely clear terms, that there is a right way and there is a wrong way, and that the difference between the two is the discipline to make the right choices.


January 31st, 2010
9:31 pm

There are occasionally tragic consequences for poor decisions. I like that the article blamed the lawmakers for not making a law to protect this boy from himself first instead of immediately blaming it on a teacher Ultimately, I am sure someone will find that teacher quality contributed to this somehow. I hope this child had been identified as being at risk of such behavior and the appropriate interventions had been implemented and plotted on a graph. Check the POI and see what tier he was on. Maybe some twenty five year old administrator can squeeze out a reason to put a letter in an old teacher’s file over the incident.

Seriously, I hate that this happened and my heart goes out to the family. Kids need to take the responsibility of driving seriously but reckless teens in cars is not a new problem. Texting is just a new distraction. 40 years ago kids were distracted by 8 track tapes. What’s the difference?


January 31st, 2010
9:49 pm

Only technology will put an end to these accidents. Atlanta based Try Safety First President and entrepreneur John Fischer has developed technology to prevent texting and emailing when behind the wheel. Please open video link.



January 31st, 2010
11:54 pm

Some people receive texts messages on their phones while their driving. Their impatient urges makes them want to text back while they’re driving. This simple move, can cause the driver to overlook an important obstacle at a flash of a moment…and there occurs a fatal accident. Is it really worth it? Can you’re friend wait for 10 minutes until you stop somewhere safely. We can see what mistakes these people are making when accidents occur because of texting while driving.

Ole Guy

February 1st, 2010
12:38 am

Cricket, 40 years ago, parents weren’t afraid to knock a little sense into the kid who insisted on making piss-poor decisions. I’m quite certain no one of that gen, yours truly included, remembers those “reminder sessions” as fond memories, however, (and I truly believe many will agree) those sessions left something deep within us…most of us…which today’s gen knows nothing of…DISCIPLINE!


February 1st, 2010
12:50 am

Do we have to have yet ANOTHER law to replace common sense and teaching people to do the right thing? Are We The People that depraved and savage that we have to be punished into doing every little thing that is good?

I know “driving is a privilege”, “if it saves one life its worth it”, “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear”, and all of the other worthless shibboleths that people don’t bother to stop and think about. Problem is, stupid still finds its way around all of these laws.

Maybe we need to come up with another cure for stupid besides more laws. Then again, if you’re a lawmaker what else is in your toolbox? If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you’re a surgeon they call you “sawbones” for a reason.


February 1st, 2010
1:07 am

There is no way to prevent accidents like this from happening other than to educate people. Speed limits have been in place for decades, but how often do we hear of a teen wrecking because of excess speed– much more often than we do because they are texting. Everyone pushes the limites and teens do it more than other age groups. Making a law won’t keep teens or anyone else from doing it. Just like underage drinking laws don’t keep young people from drinking. People who want to break the law or ignore a rule will do so whenever it suits them.


February 1st, 2010
7:47 am

I agree that we don’t need more laws to protect people from themselves, but what about the innocent lives that these idiots take when they run into other cars at 80mph? What about my right to live and not be killed by an idiot driving while texting?

Same arguement goes for seatbelts and helmets – I agree that people who don’t wear them are only hurting themselves, unless they don’t have health insurance and end up in the ICU for a month, at the taxpayers’ expense, and then need home health assistance, at the taxpayers’ expense, and then go on disability and social security, draining the system? Does that not affect me? I’m afraid it does.

Uncle Commode

February 1st, 2010
8:09 am

Muchado about nothing. There is no way to prohibit this type of behavior. Kinda like seatbelt enforcement…still refuse to wear them…HAHAHA!

tsk tsk Maureen

February 1st, 2010
8:46 am

Don’t we have laws against murder? How effective are they? Once again Maureen you are showing your liberal big government agenda. Please cancel my subscription to this blog.

mystery poster

February 1st, 2010
9:42 am

People do NOT obey these laws. In New York, talking on a cellphone while driving is illegal. I stood at the stoplight in my old hometown one summer afternoon, and EVERYONE that went through the light was on their phone. I think there was maybe one exception.

jim d

February 1st, 2010
9:45 am

it isn’t just teens—-i actually see more middle aged business people doing the texting thing on I85 every day

Uncle Commode

February 1st, 2010
9:55 am

Its all these silly mothers crying about grown-up johnny was killed by blah blah blah. Then they want to do the responsible thing by having our State Idiot enact some stupid unenforceable law and all in the name of a little TV face time.


Maureen Downey

February 1st, 2010
10:34 am

tsk, tsk, Consider it canceled. Your refund will follow.
As to texting bans, if you want a more comparable issue, consider seat belt laws. If you look back at the news stories when such laws were first proposed, critics argued no one would ever obey them. Yet, we now have more than eight in 10 drivers routinely buckling up. Behaviors can and do change with laws.

Uncle Commode

February 1st, 2010
10:48 am

The only time my seatbelt is worn would be during a drug run.


February 1st, 2010
12:08 pm

Adults are just as guilty about using hand-held devices as teens. My message to all is hand up the darn phones and pay attention!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are not that important!!!!!!!!!!!! your call CAN wait. If you don’t think it can then get someone else to drive you around. You and your can’t wait call does not have the right to endanger my and my families’ lives.

Ole Guy

February 1st, 2010
9:48 pm

Commode, after you’ve been pitched from your car because some fool didn’t see you during the seconds he was pissing with his texting duties, they will pour your remains in a hole; a few people might even cry; then I’ll scrawl HA HA HA! on your cold stone, for that, my friend, will be your legacy.


February 2nd, 2010
6:53 pm

Ole Guy-I couldn’t have said it better myself! You know, we try to ignore the crap, but now and again, you just have to say it!
As for texting laws, they are for everybody, not just teens. The laws will be ignored by many but, like seatbelt and carseat laws, if it saves a few innocent children, then, go ahead and put them on the books. Any society that wants to survive must protect the children from idiot adults for at least as long as it takes to reach an age at which they can survive on their own.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim Brotherton, Jamey Pisani, Maureen Downey, Raj Narayansamy, edeena star and others. edeena star said: Teens and texting: A deadly combination on our roads: Recently, she featured a couple whose daughter was cut down … http://bit.ly/9nGNFk [...]

Andrew Jacob

February 5th, 2010
6:39 am

It’s not a time pass one law by another… because a police personal can’t observe each and every car. so it’s time act please provide real statics to each and every parents & their child’s, ask them to realize what they are doing, ask them to ans them selfs, as them to change the way they are driving else it’s cause to one of our beloved ones it may be your neighborer or your son.


[...] ban on texting that we’ve also discussed passed as well. In fact, two bans passed.  House bill prohibits Class D drivers – mostly teens [...]