The following was written by Sgt. Bob Sheffield of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. It is cross-posted, courtesy of The Tennessean. Sgt. Sheffield is supervisor of the MNPD's traffic unit. From everyone at DOT, "Thank you, Sgt. Sheffield!"
It is an alarming safety hazard that is becoming increasingly common on the streets of our city, state and nation. Chances are you have seen it first hand. The motorist who you believe may be drugged or drunk due to weaving and an erratic speed is instead preoccupied on a cell phone device sending or reading text messages.
This distracted driver is putting not only themselves, but you, me and our families at unnecessary risk, so much so that the Tennessee legislature has made texting while driving illegal in Tennessee. Our police department is taking new steps to enforce this law as part of our continuing efforts to prevent crashes, reduce injuries and save lives.
Texting while driving is a very dangerous practice exhibited by young drivers, college students and persons in their 50s and beyond, despite strong admonitions against it by parents, educators, law enforcement and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. It truly is the modern day distraction from the roadway.
In 2010, there were 26 fatality crashes caused by "failure to maintain lane" or "running off the road."
Although we cannot say definitively that these crashes involved distracted driving, it is likely that many of them did. These 26 crashes accounted for 37 percent of all fatalities in Davidson County last year. Nationwide, 5,474 persons died in crashes involving driver distraction. That is why the effort to stop texting while driving is such a big deal.
In an effort to increase Nashvillians' awareness of Tennessee's No Texting While Driving statute, Officer Burl Johnson and Sergeant Mark Denton developed an innovative enforcement strategy that we unveiled last month. An officer riding as a passenger in an unmarked police SUV is specifically looking for texting drivers while traveling Nashville's major thoroughfares. We are also checking those roadways and intersections that have higher incidents of collisions. This initiative was not designed to expand "Big Brother's" role in society, but rather to address a dangerous behavior that is becoming more common and hopefully save some lives in the process. We expect to conduct this special enforcement initiative on random days, although Nashville police officers throughout the city are on alert for distracted drivers at all hours.
The next time you are behind the wheel in Nashville and you feel the urge to read or send a text message, please wait until you get to your destination or safely pull into a parking lot and stop. Please pass this advice along to your family. Heeding it will significantly decrease your chances of being at fault in a collision.