Driving my son to school every morning, I ordinarily see at least two people texting while driving. Sometimes it’s more. Still. To this day. I arrange things so that such drivers are in front of me where I can see everything they are doing. Then I’ll at least have a chance of evading or braking.
There does not seem to be any demographic organizing principle. Old, young, male, female, hot car, clunker — tapping away while piloting up to two tons of steel with a hot whirring thing in it down a public highway lined by homes, children, pets…about the only organizing principle is stupid.
I confess, I used to finish up a word or two of a text when a light changed, and I would creep forward a few feet. Dumb. Like millions, I saw the horrific videos that circulated on Facebook and elsewhere about how a moment of inattention could buy a lifetime of pain, regret, and grief. Or end a life. And rope in more innocent ones in the bargain.
So I stopped. I won’t text at lights. I won’t answer the phone while driving, unless my wife calls a second time (that would indicate urgency, and I would pull over). Studies galore have shown beyond dispute that although a cell phone user may feel completely in command while talking and driving, he is not. Add to that the element of intentionally looking away from the road to text, and you’ve got an activity whose danger should be as obvious as that of setting fire to oneself.
Yet every day — I’m not exaggerating here, I mean every day — I see people drifting into intersections when their light turns green, no hands on the wheel, looking down into their laps. Worse yet, I see people doing this at speed, sometimes with one hand on the wheel, sometimes doing the knee thing. Seriously.
Thirty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have already banned texting while driving. (Here’s a state-by-state rundown of cell-phone-while-driving laws.) Good for them, but as with any traffic law, enforcement can’t be perfect. Just last week, the Florida state senate finally passed a law banning texting while driving. But for the law to survive, the state House has to pass it by May 3. Critics say the law is too weak; opponents have been heard to say it’s just more burdensome governmental regulation. Both are causes for more shame to be heaped on my adopted home state.
Of course, it will take more than laws to solve the problem. Our addiction to immediacy — even the illusory kind — has got to end. As a society, we long ago reached the speed of information exchange at which any increase yields diminishing marginal returns. That’s especially true of the “BFF; you trippin?” kind of message. Whatever it is, it truly can wait. If it really can’t, pull over.
Which brings us to the positive note. A new website, itcanwait.com, includes plenty of no-nonsense information about the insanity of texting while driving, and encourages visitors to take a pledge to never do it. Awareness never hurts and can definitely help. Close to my industry’s heart is the public service announcement ad done by professional golfer Zach Johnson, whose decency and credibility are notable even in a sport full of such people.
It should be obvious. But where all our safety is concerned, I don’t mind saying it: whatever you’re texting can wait. Taking the anti-texting pledge can’t.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr