July 15, 2007 — -- When five high school cheerleaders in western New York died in an automobile accident after going out to celebrate their graduation, a community was crushed.
Now, authorities say it is possible that the fiery, head-on collision with a tractor trailer may have been caused by a distracted driver sending text messages.
"Cell phones are a distraction and could be a contributing factor in this accident," said Ontario County Sheriff Phillip Povero.
Cell phone records show a text message was sent from the phone belonging to the driver, Bailey Goodman, at 10:05:52. A reply was sent to her phone at 10:06:29. Thirty-eight seconds later, someone called 911 to report the accident that killed Bailey and her friends.
"Cell phone records indicate the phone was in use," Povero said. "We'll never be able to clearly state that she was the one doing the text messages."
Text messaging may be one of the most dangerous distractions for any driver.
"Clearly, the problem with texting is the same portion of your mind that you need to be using when you're focusing on the road is the same portion that you're using when you're texting," said Michael Pina of AAA.
For young, inexperienced drivers, texting could be even more dangerous. And yet, 46 percent of teens in a new AAA/Seventeen magazine survey admitted to texting while driving. Fifty-one percent said they talk on cell phones while driving, another distraction.
"I do and it's very dangerous," one woman said. "I have these little flashes in my mind of thinking about getting into an accident while I'm doing it."
Four states have made it illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device. But so far, only Washington state has enacted a law banning text messaging while driving.