This week, a 16 year-old girl from Kansas City, Missouri is facing multiple criminal charges after her decision to text and drive proved to have fatal consequences. Platte County prosecutors have charged Rachel N. Gannon with second-degree involuntary manslaughter in connection with her role in a fatal car accident in September 2011. Gannon is the first person to face manslaughter charges under Missouri's 2009 texting law, which prohibits texting and driving in motorists aged 21 and under.
When the crash occurred, according to police, Gannon was traveling north on Northwest Skyview Road and ran off the right side of the roadway. She then overcorrected, jerking her vehicle back onto the road, crossing the center line, and slamming sideways into a southbound vehicle.
The driver of that car, 72 year-old Loretta Larimer, had to be cut from her vehicle: she was taken to a local hospital where she died as a result of her injuries. Larimer's passenger (her 10 year-old granddaughter, who was riding in the backseat) was also injured: she suffered a chipped arm bone, whiplash and bruising.
In their investigation, police determined that Gannon was looking at her cell phone and sending text messages when the accident occurred. In addition, a passenger in Gannon's car told police that Gannon was texting, and that she "had the music turned up too loud," reports The Daily Mail.
In addition to manslaughter, Gannon is also facing charges of third-degree assault and texting while driving. At present, texting and driving is permissible for drivers over 21, but many Missouri lawmakers, safety organizations and citizens have advocated for a statewide ban on texting and driving for all drivers. Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd told several Kansas City media outlets that he too would support such a ban: "Texting while driving is at least as dangerous as drinking and driving," Zahnd said. "We make a crime of that for anybody, no matter the age. It should also be a crime for anybody to text while driving."
If convicted, Gannon could be facing up to 4 years in prison for manslaughter; up to 1 year in prison for assault; and a $200 fine for texting and driving. She will be tried as an adult. Currently, she has been released on $5000 bond: she has also surrendered her driver's license and her cell phone as a condition of her bond.
Recent research has shown that approximately 75% of teens believe they can safely text while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Additionally, the study revealed the following common teen responses to the texting and driving issue:
• 32% of teens "don't think anything bad will happen."
• 22% of teens said texting "makes driving less boring."
• 34% of teens said they're "used to multi-tasking."
While many teens tell their parents that they would never use their cell phones while behind the wheel, a Dateline experiment has proven otherwise. Airing this Sunday as part of a special series ("My Kid Would Never"), the special report uses hidden cameras to reveal what kinds of choices teens make when they don't think parents are watching. (Click here to watch a preview of the Texting and Driving episode.) As parents, it's an eye-opening report: there is much we still need to do to demonstrate these very real dangers to our teen drivers.