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Police start enforcing texting while driving ban

Tri States Public Radio

In Illinois, it's illegal to talk on the phone while driving unless you're using bluetooth or another hands free device. You're never allowed to text while driving, yet some people can't seem to put down their phones.
For some drivers, it's hard to ignore the sound of an incoming text or a phone call. Psychology professor Virginia Diehl of Western Illinois University feels that you should ignore it, and not just because it's against the law.

"It's just so dangerous.  I mean just pull over for a minute and do it that way," said Dr. Diehl.  She says the thing that makes texting and driving so dangerous is all in the mind, in the form of working memory.

"It turns out that working memory has a very limited capacity," said Diehl.  "And we've noticed this. We can't do everything at the same time. If we are studying for an exam, we can't also build a project from scratch, or really pay attention to a television show or engage in conversation. There are only so many things we can do at the same time."

Yet people continue to operate their cell phones while driving.  This can have fatal consequences. According to the National Highway traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,300 American drivers were killed in distraction-related crashes in 2012.

In addition, a study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 69% of the people surveyed had talked on the phone while driving and 31% send a text or e-mail while driving. It's numbers like these that have gotten the attention of the government and law enforcement.

"Seems like every time in my personal car I notice someone driving while on the phone," said Western Illinois University Office of Public Safety Director Scott Harris. His department, as well as law enforcement agencies across the state have been tasked with enforcing the new texting and driving ban that went into effect on New year's day.

Harris says that campus police and state agencies did what they could to get the word out about the new law. "It's been publicized nationwide and in the state of Illinois that January 1st this law was taking effect," said Harris.  "Hopefully students learned about it from their hometown news or from the (Western) Courier."

Two months into the new law, two citations had been issued for texting while driving by Harris' officers. And in state police District 14- a five county area that includes Macomb- state troopers have handed out four.

But even as the state looks to crack down on texting while driving, WIU's Virginia Diehl indicates that the research is ongoing. "I recently heard about some studies that were comparing texting to drunk driving," said Diehl, referring to a study done by psychologists from the University of Utah. They found that cell-phone users were just as impaired while driving as someone driving at the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08%.

The academic community continues to discover more information about the dangers of distracted driving. States are using this information to place restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. The last step may be on the people themselves to leave their phones alone when they're on the road.