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Hispanic Health News

No Text is Worth a Life: It Can Wait –  Puede Esperar

No Text is Worth a Life: It Can Wait  –  Puede Esperar

Photo: No Text is Worth a Life: It Can Wait – Puede Esperar -- by Carlos F. Orta

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The following is an Op-Ed piece by Carlos F. Orta, President & CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility

National No Texting While Driving Pledge Day was celebrated on September 19, 2012. More recently, October 14-20th marks National Teen Driver Awareness Week. Both of these occasions reminded me of when I took a ride in AT&T’s state-of-the-art virtual reality simulator at the League of United Latin American Citizen’s (LULAC) conference in Orlando, this summer. 

The simulator, a car with a video screen inside, demonstrates the dangers associated with texting while driving. The experience allowed participants to pretend driving a car while typing out a text message on a phone. The results were staggering! The level of distraction was not what I expected and in fact, most people came out of it quite changed.  Everyone seemed to walk away with a vivid lesson of how just one text could easily end in tragedy. 

In particular, I was struck by the young people taking turns in the simulator, many of them were just learning to drive.  They were especially surprised by their experience in the simulator and, one by one, praised it as a great learning experience. Given that our young teenagers seem to be avid “texters”, and many are just starting out behind a wheel, the conversation the simulator struck among them is critical.  They spoke of how they and their friends are almost pre-conditioned to engage in this dangerous activity, but that the simulator opened their eyes to the danger. 

ImageThe simulator, which is currently on a tour of over 200 locations, is part of an “It Can Wait” public awareness campaign about the dangers of texting while driving. I encourage each of you to visit the www.itcanwait.com website and take the pledge right now never to text and drive and discuss this issue with your family and friends.  Most of us are aware that texting while driving is dangerous, but far too many of us have been tempted by our phones while behind the wheel.

Young people in general, and Hispanic youth in particular, tend to be especially enthusiastic texters and they’re also less experienced drivers.  This leads to a much higher risk among Latinos to be involved in accidents that cause injury and even death.  When it comes to texting while driving, 54% of Hispanic teens say they have texted while driving, compared to only 41% of Caucasians and 42% of African-American teenagers.  The ‘gateway behaviors’ are equally troubling—70% of Hispanic teens admit to texting while stopped at a red light compared to 58% of Caucasians and 61% of African-American teens.

This campaign is a chance to make it clear to our youth that tragic consequences are only one careless action away.

All too often, that careless action is a driver’s glance at a cell phone. More than 100,000 times per year drivers texting caused wrecks, life-changing injuries, and even deaths, according to the National Safety Council.  A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that drivers who text are 23 % more likely to wreck.

These numbers clearly show the seriousness of texting while driving.  For that matter, in a recent national online poll of teens, 97% said they knew texting while driving is dangerous. 

Unfortunately, many teens engage in this dangerous distraction anyway.  Our youth are vitally important to our nation’s future, and we must work together to ensure that Latino teens have the skills, encouragement, and opportunities they need to succeed.  After learning more about the dangers of texting while driving and its prevalence in our Hispanic communities, it is clear to me that we must also work together to educate our young people and ourselves about this issue.  If the young people’s eye-opening experiences in the simulator are any indication of the dangerous activities that many teenagers are engaging in, I hope that word spreads quickly of this initiative and we can all be a part of a growing trend to change this behavior.

As the President & CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, I join many of HACR’s coalition members, in urging everyone to take responsibility for their own behavior.  It can save the lives of many, including those most dear to us.