A Des Moines elementary school teacher’s condition improved to fair on Monday, after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle near Alleman last week.

Maria Claussen, 17, of Elkhart allegedly struck John Meyer, 42, of Ankeny while she was driving a Chevrolet Lumina in the 1700 block of Northeast 142nd Avenue at about 8 p.m. Friday.

The initial indication was that Claussen was texting while driving, which is illegal in Iowa. No charges have been filed in the crash, but the investigation remains ongoing, said Sgt. Jana Rooker, Polk County sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

Meyer teaches special education at Garton Elementary School on Des Moines’ east side. He was initially listed in critical condition at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, but he’s gradually improved through the weekend, a hospital spokesman said. His family and Garton colleagues declined to comment Monday.

Distracted driving, including the use of mobile phones and other devices, has led to 7,224 crashes, 3,459 injuries and 27 deaths on Iowa roads from 2002 through Oct. 9, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The crash occurred on the eve of National Teen Driver Safety Week. Drivers who text behind the wheel don’t realize how much time their eyes are off the road, said Daniel McGehee, director of the Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research Program at the University of Iowa Public Policy Center.

“The most you can safely have your eyes off the road is about 1.75 seconds to 2 seconds, and anything beyond that you start to see serious lane degradation,” McGehee said. “Our research shows texting takes eyes off the road between 4 and 6 seconds, which is extremely dangerous.”

According to recent Nielsen Co. sampling of 65,000 phone records, text messages are the dominant form of communication among teenagers and young adults, surpassing voice communications.

Comparing the second three months of 2010 to the same period in 2009, voice communication between people ages 13 to 17 declined from about 800 minutes per month to 600 minutes per month. During the same period, however, teenagers in that age group increased texts sent per month from 3,000 to 3,500, the research showed.

Breaking the texting-while-driving trend will be a tough task, McGehee said.

“Even if people put their phones in their pocket and make a concerted effort not to text or look at their phone while they drive, there is a strong compulsion to take a peek,” he said. “We’ve monitored people’s heart rates and it spikes up when you know there’s a message. There will need to be some social change.”






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