Banning texting while driving is such a no-brainer that it's hard to believe there is even a discussion. States may say they have better things to do, but when the feds threaten to cut off highway funding they'll find the time. Good for the feds.
That is, after all, how we got the infamous 55-mph speed limit. Compared to winning that battle, this is a cakewalk.
In case you've missed out, a recent Virginia Tech study found that texting while driving increases accident risk by 23 times. You’d think that would make sensible people stop, and it may, but there also seems to be a decided lack of sensible people, at least when you drop them into the driver's seat.
A group of Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer of New York, have introduced legislation that could force states to become part of a national ban. Improved safety is the carrot, while losing highway funds is the stick. Verizon likes the bill; states don't.
Already, 14 states and DC ban sending SMS or e-mail messages while driving. Reports I've seen say they aren't writing many tickets, because it's easy to hide texting while driving.
Making a voice call without a hands-free device is more difficult to hide.
And that is also illegal where I live. And the law against voice calls is easier to enforce, including against of friend of mine who surprised a patrol officer by showing him that her "cellular phone" was actually an energy bar she was eating. But, the PD and highway patrol are on the lookout and I am glad.
Making something illegal, even if it is hard to enforce, is one of the best ways we have of telling people, "Listen up, we're SERIOUS about this." Many people will comply with the law just because they want to be law-abiding citizens.
I know people who wear seatbelts only because not doing so could potentially get them ticketed. I have also met people who were alive for the meeting only because they were wearing seatbelts when their accident occurred.
We need, right now, a national education campaign, like our anti-drunk driving efforts, to tell people forcefully that there is no totally safe way to use a cellular telephone while driving. And that texting while driving, using current technology, is incredibly dangerous. Period.
People do not seem to intuitively understand much of this. Using a cellular handset seems much safer than it actually is. Many will never get it until they are attacked by the evil magnetic light standard that runs into the street just ahead of their vehicle while they are texting a friend or sending email and not watching the road.
Still, anyone we can educate is a good investment. And I have a prime candidate:
I have a friend who is such a remarkable texting driver that for a long time I didn’t realize that's what she was doing. And I still don't know how she managed to keep up a conversation while driving, oh, 70 mph down the highway.
But, one night--we're talking about texting in the dark on a BlackBerry--she was slow to respond and almost apologetically told me that she was driving down I-95 in the Carolinas somewhere.
My contribution to your safely is that I no longer text with my friend when she might be behind the wheel. I am not sure she'll tell me if I ask, but I do ask and follow my gut about whether to talk or not. Usually, I turn the text chat into a voice call, considerably safer than typing behind the wheel.
Thank God she doesn't drink and drive.
I tell this story just in case you don't believe there are people who need to be stopped from texting. I've even heard a story about a kid texting behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle. Not while running Code 3, but that's not much of an improvement.
The Virginia Tech report came just a week after similar conclusions were found in a report done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That 266-page report, which was actually compiled in 2002 but was kept out of public view until two consumer groups filed a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain it, recommends that drivers be banned from using cell phones in moving vehicles, whether the phone is being held or used with a hands-free listening device.
It's self-serving for me to suggest you send this column to your friends. But, please share this new safety message: Friends don't let friends drive drunk, or use a cell phone behind the wheel.
Together, we can make a difference and save lives.