Spend more than five minutes on any street or highway in the Midlands and you’ll see it — the weave.
A driver up ahead staring down, away from the wheel, focused on the artificial glow of a smartphone screen. A car wandering between lanes, moving slower than the traffic around it. The screech of brakes behind you at a red light. And crashes that claim property and lives.
Texting and driving is more than dangerous. It is as dangerous as driving drunk.
That’s what University of Utah researchers found in a study that examined the impairment of cellphone-using drivers.
It is so dangerous that more than 30 states have made it illegal. Most of them, like Virginia, pushed to make it a primary offense — a violation that, on its own, is worthy of pulling a driver over.
Nebraska lawmakers are considering a similar step, and they should take it. In Nebraska and Iowa, texting and driving already is a secondary offense, something tacked onto other tickets but not enough for a separate traffic stop.
The data show that’s not good enough. Not for the safety of the drivers who mistakenly believe their messages can’t wait a few minutes. And definitely not for the safety of those in other cars around them who rightly pay attention to the road.
The Utah studies are a good place to start. Researchers found in 2006 that drivers using cellphones in any fashion were as impaired as drivers at the legal limit for drinking and driving, those with blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent.
Researchers followed up in 2009 with a study that found drivers who texted behind the wheel were more impaired than drivers using their cellphones to talk. And a Virginia Tech University study the same year found that text-messaging drivers were 23 times more likely to crash or narrowly miss a crash than undistracted drivers.
Some statistics might lie, but not these.
Nearly 1 in 6 fatal crashes in 2009 and 1 in 5 crashes that resulted in injuries involved a distracted driver, federal safety statistics show.
What’s more distracting than text messaging, which takes eyes off the road for long periods of time? A car moving 60 mph will travel nearly three football fields in 10 seconds.
How long did it take you to type your last text?
If Nebraskans wouldn’t want someone behind the wheel when drunk, then they shouldn’t want people behind the wheel typing out texts.
There’s little doubt, as some critics of texting bans argue, that enforcement of texting-while- driving laws can be more difficult than enforcing laws that ban hand-held cellphone use by drivers.
Motorists will say they weren’t texting, and getting subpoenas for cellphone records takes time and money.
But research shows that the publicity garnered by adopting the bans — and subsequent, skilled public education and enforcement campaigns by safety and law enforcement officials — can make a real dent in driver use of phones.
Other states found after enacting and publicizing bans that significantly fewer drivers used phones while driving, at least initially.
And while enforcement might be hard, states are convicting hundreds of texting drivers. Virginia last year convicted 725 in the first six months of its new law. Even as a secondary offense, Nebraska in 2012 convicted 145.
The key appears to be open discussion about the facts and dangers of texting while driving, continued public outreach about the risks, and then consequences for those who do it anyway.
Some 5 percent of American drivers are on their phones at any given daylight hour, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s 5 percent of people putting their lives and yours at risk.
Nebraska lawmakers have an opportunity here to save lives.