By Janet Shamlian, NBC News Correspondent
Traffic was moving at the Texas speed limit, posted plus ten, when I noticed her beside me. She couldn't have been more than eighteen and was steering with her forearms, saving her hands for the keypad of her cell phone. I quickly put a lane between us, a move that hardly fixes a much bigger problem.
Teenagers have always been our most at-risk drivers. Just 7 percent of the nation's motorists, they account for 14 percent of all fatal accidents. Easily distracted by phones and friends, they also love to text and many do it behind the wheel. According to a recent poll, half of all teens admit sending text messages while driving. Like drugs and sex, the real number is probably higher.
The consequence is apparent in a flurry of fatal accidents this year. The one I can't get out of my head happened in upstate New York in June. Five teenage girls died. Fresh out of high school, they had it all ahead of them. Their graduation portraits, released by their anguished parents, have stayed with me. Police say the young driver sent and received text messages before crossing the center line.
For years, we've been talking about the dangers of drinking and driving. Could texting and driving be as dangerous? The question of how and whether to regulate it is one we'll explore tonight on Nightly News. A number of states have passed laws restricting teens from using electronics while driving, but in most cases they can stopped only if speeding or violating another law.
Teens, of course, aren't the only ones guilty of answering an email while bombing down the interstate. Everyone thinks they're the exception, it could never happen to them. Tragically, the families of those beautiful young girls know differently.