Texting Driver Charged in Fatal New York Crash

Texting while driving has been blamed for a fatal New York car crash. The driver of the car is being charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, failure to use due care, and use of a portable electronic device—texting—said the Tonawanda News.

Alicia Westgate, 25, was operating the 2005 Malibu that fatally hit bicyclist Richard Webb, 67, on July 16 on Transit Road. Westgate, who was texting at the time, has been charged by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, said the Tonawanda News. Both Westgate and Webb were heading south on Transit Road.

Westgate was traveling with a four- and a three-year-old passenger who were in the back seat of the Malibu and who were not injured in the deadly crash. The sheriff’s report indicates that Westgate was unaware of the bicyclist who was pronounced dead at the scene, said the Tonawanda News.

Members of the Olcott Fire and Miller Hose Fire companies responded; Accident Investigation, Crime Scene Investigation, and Criminal Investigation units were dispatched. The Tonawanda News noted that reckless driving is a misdemeanor and Westgate is due in Newfane Town Court on August 14.

As we’ve written, recent studies have found that safe texting when driving is not possible, with distracted driving a growing issue, along with related accidents and deaths. A new, national, anonymous survey, conducted in 2011 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), revealed that 58 percent of the high school senior students—and 43 percent of the high school juniors—surveyed admitted to having texted or emailed on their devices while driving, in just the prior month, said the Associated Press (AP). Some prior studies suggest that the incidence of teen texting when driving was common, the studies did not reveal that the practice was as high as it is, said the AP. The study, which asked about texting and driving for the first time this year, is conducted every two years.

Prior studies presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies in Boston, Massachusetts, found that the mere thought of texting on a mobile device while driving might be enough to cause teens to crash. In fact, studies suggest that teenage drivers who text with their device in any position and teens who just think about texting, are likelier to crash. A number of other studies have revealed that texting or using a cell phone when driving increases risks for motor vehicle accidents, which has prompted bans on the practices in many states. But some argue that the bans actually increase dangers because drivers are more focused on concealing their phones.

Recent research also revealed that simply listening to someone speak on the other end of a cell phone reduces, by 37 percent, the amount of brain activity associated with driving, compared to driving alone. Other research conducted revealed that making devices hands-free or voice-activated is insufficient to eliminated driver distraction. Meanwhile, federal safety regulators are urging states to adopt near-total bans on the use of cell phones while driving, which applies to hands-free devices, which many drivers mistakenly believe are safer. The unanimous recommendation of the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) followed several serious or deadly accidents blamed on drivers’ use of cell phones.

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