Texting while driving continues to be a hot topic across the nation as more and more states enact laws to ban it. But has it made an impact in Wichita yet?
According to the US Department of Transportation, more than 5,000 people died in 2009 in distracted driving crashes. 448,000 people were hurt. While we can't narrow down how many of those distractions were from cell phones, the department estimates that one in every five fatal crashes is caused by a driver distracted by a cell phone.
We've all seen it... an many of us have done it. It's not just texting, either. The general use of cell phones while driving is a problem across the United States that has led to serious accidents and untold fatalities.
"One of the analogies that's been used for texting while driving," explained Wichita Police Lt. Joe Schroeder, "would be the same as getting on the roadway and driving at highway speed and placing a blindfold on for 8-10 seconds. That is what most people average to open a text message, read it and comprehend what it's saying and move on."
In Kansas, the texting while driving ban went into effect at the beginning of this year. it specifically bans the use of wireless communication devices to write, send, or read a written communication while operating a motor vehicle on the roadway. But Schroeder claims the law has several loopholes that make it hard to enforce.
"Officers have to be able to logically state to a judge before a jury that they saw what appeared to be text messaging," Schroeder said. "That they saw the actual person entering messages while driving down the road."
Under the new state law, drivers can still use their phones to access emergency alerts, including weather and traffic incidents. Schroeder admits that there's nothing stopping a person from simply saying they were doing that.
One big downfall, however, is that Schroeder believes the law has now made people more aware that officers are looking harder.
"So now instead of having the handheld device up on their steering wheel where they're looking eyes up and ahead, they're now concealing it at their lap," he said. "This results in them looking straight down at their lap while they're driving."
Someone who knows very well how distracted driving can impact your life is Randy Edwards.
"I lost my buddy," Edwards said as he cried. "My hunting buddy. My car show buddy. Worst thing you ever do is have to put your boy to sleep."
His son, 25 year-old Tusten Edwards, was killed on Kellogg in Wichita last June while attempting to remove a tire from the roadway. Prosecutors believe the driver who struck him was distracted in some manner by a cell phone. In the police report, 24 year-old Kassidi Barrett stated that her phone rang and she looked down to shut it off, but didn't answer it. Suddenly, she said the airbags were deployed.
"The hardest thing I've ever had to do is bury my son," Edwards said as he choked back tears. "At 25 years, you don't expect to bury your own children. Whether it's a son or a daughter, granddaughter, it's hard to do, especially when it could have been prevented."
The state law banning texting while driving had been in effect for just four days. Law Enforcement officers began handing out warnings last July to publicize the law. Full enforcement began in January of this year, but Lt. Schroeder says only one accident in Wichita has been attributed to texting while driving.
After pulling public records on Barrett, KAKE News discovered four speeding tickets, two construction zone speeding tickets, and two tickets for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Those eight infractions all happened since 2006.
Barrett is charged with vehicular homicide in Sedgwick County District Court, which is a misdemeanor charge. Her case is scheduled for a bench trial on March 24.