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SPECIAL REPORT: Digital Distraction

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POSTED: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 9:02pm

UPDATED: Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 1:57pm

July 5, 2008 was just another day to many people, but for Michael Wheeler it was a day he will never forget. It was exactly one month to the day since he had retired as a football coach in Plano, north of Dallas, when the unthinkable happened. 

Wheeler explains, "A young man was distracted from the road texting, and there was a slight curve in the road and he crossed the center line, hit somebody, and then somebody hit me."

Wheeler was hit while jogging alongside the road in his new hometown of Canton, when one driver's text message, cost Wheeler his leg. 

Wheeler says he has lost "Six inches of my lower left leg and multiple fractures. I lost a chunk of my right thigh, I had lots of bruises and scrapes, but really the other injuries I sustained have caused more problems today than due the loss of a leg."

Wheeler is one of the thousands of people whose lives are changed forever all because of someone texting behind the wheel. Yet, even with stories like Wheeler's, thousands still continue to text while driving. 

TX Dot Public Information Officer Larry Krantz says, "Statistics show that you are 23% more likely to be involved in a crash if you're texting while driving. Those numbers are just astronomically high."

According to a 2012 report from the Department of Public Safety, almost ninety thousand injuries and five hundred deaths were linked to some sort of distracted driving. Government research also shows that sending or receiving a text message takes a driver's eyes of the road for 4.6 seconds, which is the equivalent of driving down a football field at 55 miles per hour with a blindfold on.

AAA Driving Academy instructor Martha Gilley explains the reason this distraction is so dangerous is because "texting takes away a driver's mental, visual, and manual capabilities". 

It's not difficult to spot the effects this distraction has on drivers.; in fact, officers often mistake those texting as a drunk driver. 

Officer Don Martin with the Tyler Police explains, "You're not driving in a straight lane and you're weaving. We're here to determine if they have any alcohol issues going on and they'll say, 'No, I was on my phone.'"

Many people believe texting and driving is safer than drinking and driving, but Krantz goes onto explain that is not the case. Krantz explains, "There's a lot of information out there about how dangerous drinking and driving is, and texting and driving has shown to be even more dangerous than drinking and driving."

While there are some cities in Texas with texting bans in place such as Amarillo and El Paso, the East Texas area is a different story. Gilley says, "Spastics we had in East Texas, in our own area, show we're 86% more likely to get in a serious crash with serious injuries or death."

Currently there is a new bill in Austin which would make texting and driving illegal state-wide.

A government website says almost 40% of teens admit to having been in a dangerous driving situation involving a cell phone. Krantz says in order to fix this problem parents have to set an example for their children. Krantz says, " I have a six year old and if she were to see me talking and texting while I was behind the wheel she would grow up thinking that was okay."

Texting and driving victim Michael Wheeler urges those who text and drive to quit this dangerous habit. He says, "Texting and driving just isn't worth it. Just isn't worth it. It only takes a second, and I'm sure if the young man could go back and do it differently he would have waited a minute or two to do his texting."

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