ATLANTA -- First, the good news. An informal visual survey of drivers in Atlanta shows the vast majority of them appear to pay attention to the road the vast majority of the time.
But within this mostly law-abiding group is a subset of drivers glancing away from the road toward their smart phones -- reading or sending texts from behind the wheel.
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"When you get a text message and it's ringing over and over again in your pocket, you need to see who it is," said Morehouse College student Kenley Hargett. "I mean I know you're driving, but I try to wait 'til a stop light."
Hargett says he trades texts and emoticons daily with his mom, and has honed his texting skills from the driver's seat. Hargett says he sometimes holds the phone in front of his face so he can see traffic and his texts simultaneously.
"So you're looking at both sides but you're making it quick," Hargett, a former WXIA intern, said.
Young people have clung to their texting and driving habits, despite new laws, like one in Georgia making texting and driving illegal. Nationally, in a survey of drivers age 16 and 17, only 43 percent said they'd never texted while driving. The same survey two years ago delivered the same answer to the same question. The survey was authorized by State Farm Insurance and released in USA Today.
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"The truth is if you talk to them, do they know its dangerous? Yes. But are they doing anything about it? No," said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.
Blackwood says years ago, motorists were also slow to use seat belts and to avoid drunk driving. He expects a similar evolution in texting while driving.
"There will have to be some real movement and it will take more than us," Blackwood said. "It will take a community behind it, a state behind it, and people to say 'I've had enough.'"
Georgia enacted its ban on texting while driving in 2010. From the law's enactment through December 2011, law enforcement officers have issued 557 citations to adults and 23 to teenagers, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Driver Services.