The proliferation of smartphones has caused driving and traffic issues that previous generations didn't have to deal with.
"I travel the (Merritt) Parkway every day, and I'm amazed when I see people going 65-, 70-MPH, and by the way they're looking down, they're sending a text or reading one," said New Canaan Police Chief Ed Nadriczny. "You see cars weaving or driving slower than they should. You would hope people would get it by now, but they don't seem to be."
That's why the New Canaan and Darien boards of Realtors have joined to promote an anti-texting-and-driving campaign started by AT&T.
"No one spends as much time in the cars as we do," said New Canaan Board of Realtors President Leslie Razook, who described the tightrope that Realtors must walk between safety and customer service. "We want to be responsive to our clients wherever and whenever. This is an exercise in mindfulness. It can wait."
"It Can Wait" is the motto of AT&T's campaign. In support of the initiative, the company launched a website, itcanwait.org, which offers facts about the dangers of texting and driving, video testimonials from celebrities and the families of those who have been injured or killed in distracted driving accidents.
The site also offers a texting-and-driving simulator, which sends messages to your phone while you navigate a digital streetscape. The main aspect of the campaign however, is a pledge in which participants promise not to text and drive.
"No text message, email, website or video is worth the risk of endangering my life or the lives of others on the road. I pledge to never text and drive and will take action to educate others about the dangers of texting while driving," the pledge reads.
Darien and New Canaan Realtors plan to take this pledge at their Feb. 6 joint meeting. Both police departments have been invited and plan to attend the event.
"I think we set the example for the community not to drive and text, because as Realtors, we basically live in our cars," Darien Board of Realtors President Janine Tienken said in anticipation of the event.
One Realtor in particular spearheaded the initiative after a frustrating car ride, in which her client was upset at not receiving information instantly.
"We spend so much time in our cars, and clients have high expectations of getting back to them with very short timeframes," said Darien Realtor Wendy Ward. "It sort of rang true to me when I saw the AT&T national ad campaign. We'd like to get back to our clients immediately, but at the same time we also have a greater good to be driving safely."
As communication technology has become increasingly advanced and widespread, rapid responses have become the norm, said Halstead Realty public relations manager Robin Kammerer.
"In Connecticut and New York, inventory is very tight in the towns," she said. "Sellers and buyers are really anxious. Every second matters to them, and therefore to the Realtors. I've been with brokers who have pulled over to the side of the road to take a call from their clients."
As the use of smartphones has become more widespread, awareness of the dangers of distracted driving has grown as well.
Few places need more of a reminder about the risks of distracted driving more than New Canaan, where last spring 16-year-old Brianna McEwan struck and killed 44-year-old Kenneth Dorsey, who was jogging on New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk, with her SUV.
McEwan was checking her smartphone at the time of the accident.
Police said it is difficult to regulate distracted driving, an action that is within a car and not as easy to spot as running a red light or speeding.
"It's difficult to determine when someone is texting while driving or simply using their cellphone," said Darien Police Capt. Fred Komm. "Both fall under the distracted driving statute, as do newspaper reading, applying makeup, etc., while operating a vehicle."
There is a growth in technology available that decrease the dangers of communicating in the car. Many new cars now allow phones to be synced to the car's speakers, allowing for hands-free calling. Many new Fords come with a "Sync" system, which has the car read incoming texts to a driver and allows the driver to respond with one of 15 preset responses like, "Can't talk right now," with the touch of a button, according to Ford's website.
There are also several apps that aim to block texting and driving, such as AT&T's DriveMode app, which when activated, silences all incoming notifications, sends pre-set replies to texts to notify texters the phone owner is driving and blocks the driver from reading or typing on the phone.
"It's just a matter of having discipline," Ward said. "We can all exercise better judgment and not be texting at a stop light."
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