Wisconsin texting champ urges drivers to put down phones

Austin Wierschke poses with a new Wisconsin advertisement. (Photo: Gannett Wisconsin Media)Austin Wierschke poses with a new Wisconsin advertisement. (Photo: Gannett Wisconsin Media)

Wisconsin teenager and two-time LG U.S. National Texting Champion Austin Wierschke is advocating for drivers to put their mobile phones away while behind the wheel, the Appleton Post-Crescent reported.

The 18-year-old has won titles for his texting abilities like speed, accuracy and even texting his name blindfolded, but he said he wouldn’t send any texts while driving.

Wierschke, who is featured in statewide DOT campaign advertisements airing this month, said during a press conference on April 1 that texting while driving is “becoming the new drunk driving,” pointing out that young drivers are participating in this new kind of dangerous driving.

But this new trend isn’t just affecting teens. Though 2010 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 11 percent of all drivers under age 20 involved traffic crashes were distracted, more adults admit to texting and driving than teens.

In a survey from A&T published in USA Today, about half of the adults surveyed admitted to texting and driving, while 43 percent of teens admitted to the action.

And it’s worth noting that about 660,000 drivers are likely preoccupied with their cell phones right now.

Sandra Huxtable, director of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety, offered safe driving practices like turning off or silencing phones before driving, asking a passenger to take calls or send texts or pulling over in a safe area to call or text. Huxtable also suggested motorists create a voicemail to let callers know they are driving.

Wisconsin DOT leaders said the people of all ages should be able to identify with the state’s new advertisements.