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Driving while texting -- do you know the cost?

  • Story Highlights
  • Experts say driving while texting is leading factor in accidents
  • Four states actively attempting to ban driving while texting
  • Studies show 46 percent of drivers ages 16 to 17 admit to texting while driving
  • Electronic Virtual Assistant lets you dictate text message responses
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By Craig Howie
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(AOL Autos) -- Maybe you've been tempted. Sitting at the wheel in traffic, you hear the familiar beep of a text-message alert.

Since January, drivers in Washington have been targeted with $101 fines if they are found guilty of DWT.

Since January, drivers in Washington have been targeted with $101 fines if they are found guilty of DWT.

Maybe your boss wants the latest numbers from today's sales meeting, or a friend wants to set up a place to meet for drinks. Traffic is backed up and you know it would take less than a minute to type a response with your thumbs, so you do.

There is little risk here, you think. And then it happens ... the person in front of you stops more quickly than you expected and you crash into them.

During the claims process your insurance company starts checking your cell-phone communications in the run-up to the accident. Now you've just lost a claim and a heck of a lot of money, all because that text was oh-so important.

A growing problem

If you avoid text messaging in your car, you stand a substantially reduced chance of a loss of a claim or, indeed, a loss of life, recent studies suggest. Texting while driving, or fiddling with myriad devices including your cell phone, BlackBerry or GPS system, is a leading factor in accidents across the nation.

Ask the 22-year-old Arizona woman who recently hit a stationary emergency vehicle, with its lights blazing, while text messaging behind the wheel.

Four states are actively attempting to ban driving while texting (DWT), with Washington passing a ban early this year on all drivers sending electronic messages while on the road. In 17 states including the District of Columbia, young or inexperienced drivers are banned from using cell phones, even using a hands-free kit, with emergency calls exempted.

These measures are in response to a ream of statistics that suggest DWT is a growing danger. In various accredited published studies, some 46 percent of drivers ages 16 to 17 admit to texting while driving.

One study by Nationwide Insurance suggests DWT is generational, with 37 percent of people age 18 to 27 saying they text message while driving, while just 14 percent of those ages 28 to 44 and two percent of drivers ages 45 to 60 admitted to it. AOL Autos: 10 cars to keep you young

Since January, drivers in Washington have been targeted with $101 fines if they are found guilty of DWT. Drivers in Oregon face a much bigger $720 fine next year if some state lawmakers get their way. Cities nationwide are jumping on the text-message ordinance bandwagon, too. AOL Autos: 10 safest small cars

A solution within reach?

Wouldn't it be nice to find a solution to your texting requirements while keeping you safe on the road? The smart folks at Virtual Management, Inc. thought so and went about developing the Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA). EVA offers a live transcribing service which can send and receive e-mail or text messages via voice mail.

The system reads all-important e-mail or text message back to you on a hands-free kit. It will also back up to its database any data given or received by voice over the phone for a period of 10 years. AOL Autos: Most popular crossovers

The company says that its live transcribing and record-keeping services will save businesses, and their workers, money through tax write-offs and expense accounting. But, perhaps more importantly for any driver, or a busy sales rep on the road, it takes the typing out of text messaging. AOL Autos: Four turbo-charged cars

For less than $20 a month, the EVA system allows users, through an online database, to identify a list of VIP e-mail addresses. Any e-mail or text sent from those addresses are automatically forwarded as a voice message to the customer's cell phone. Users can then safely listen to them on a hands-free car kit. AOL Autos: Top 5 most popular cars

Jason Kirshner, a spokesman for the EVA, says: "When you're driving and you want to respond [to a text message or e-mail], most people will thumb [type] a response, which is a little dangerous. With EVA you can dictate a message and it will be sent as an online WAV (digital audio) file as an e-mail attachment.

"Our stage two plan is that you can initiate the communication. You basically dictate your message and it gets sent as an e-mail," he said. "Voice recognition software has come a long way but it's not perfect. You don't have room for mistakes. Great thing is by [messaging your own] voice, one, it's highly safe when you're driving, and two, it's a little bit more personal, it's your own voice. You can leave a lengthy, detailed message."

More than 158 billion text messages were sent in the USA in 2006, says USA Today, quoting CTIA-The Wireless Association figures. More than a trillion were sent worldwide, says an Ontario business school. EVA says its sales have grown by more than 300 percent since December 2006.

We cross-checked EVA services with recommendations and guidelines from the Wireless Association regarding safe use of cell phones in vehicles. If used correctly, the EVA system passes every one.

As always, caution is advised and a driver is always advised to pull over to the side of the road if use of a mobile device is required. But perhaps with more hands-free voice transcription services like EVA, fewer accidents text-message related accidents would occur on our roads.

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