Not SO Smart-Phone: Here’s Why Driving Under the Influence of Texts SHOULD BE the New “DUI”

By Paul Chanan

Due to law enforcement and public policy efforts to curb DUIs, it at least appears that our suburban roads are safer now than they have been for quite some time. After all, we all know a few people who over the years have gotten popped after having a few too many, and it cost them dearly. About $10,000 for lawyers and costs, the embarrassment of being named in the paper, and possible repercussions at work or among their peers. And God forbid someone got hurt or even killed, well then, the situation went from terrible to catastrophic.

So it’s good to know the roads have been cleaned up, since many of us have or will soon have new drivers in our families. Safer Roads = Happier Parents. But hold on just one second.  It appears that in spite of the drunk drivers finding another way to get home from the bar, the roads have somehow gotten WAY MORE DANGEROUS!  How, you ask?  Because everywhere you look, someone is TEXTING WHILE DRIVING.

If my personal observation is even close to the average, then I’d say that a driver appears to be texting or looking at a text in one of every 3 or 4 cars I see on the road.

And that’s only the time when I see them doing it. I assume this conduct is repetitive and being somewhat hidden, so that these same people are pretty much texting like this every time they’re behind the wheel.
Well, you say, it’s not so bad, as texting can’t be nearly as dangerous as driving drunk, right? WRONG!
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Driving a vehicle while texting is SIX times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.
The federal agency reports that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent — when traveling at 55 mph — of driving the length of an entire football field while blindfolded.
Oh, shit, that sounds pretty serious. We’d better get all these texting drivers to stop this obviously reckless act. We need to do public service announcements on TV and radio, talk to our kids about the dangers, make a law against it, and provide the devastating statistics of what happens when too many people are regularly doing something behind the wheel that is six times more dangerous than driving drunk.  Just get the word out that texting and driving is so unnecessary but is so incredibly dangerous. Then it will be obvious to anyone with two brain cells in their head that texting and driving is so painfully stupid that only a moron would ever do it.  After making that clear, we should all be good and safe, right?

But wait, we’ve already done all those things, and it appears texting and driving hasn’t slowed down one bit.  If my eyes are a good indicator, I think it’s actually sped up, and trending higher.

Why? Four Reasons:
  1. Kids now have smart-phones before they get braces, let alone before they get their driver’s license.  And we let them drive years before they have the  maturity to make an educated risk analysis when it comes to driving distracted.  After all, kids are totally invincible and nothing bad will ever happen to them … Right?
  2. Kids are ABSOLUTELY ADDICTED to their cell phones.  They don’t just like them.  They don’t just love them.  They are ADDICTED to them. All the beeps and rings and buzzes to them are like heroin to a junkie.  It doesn’t matter how many warnings they get, these kids simply HAVE TO grab that text, and they HAVE TO reply immediately.  You could show them that they are one million times more likely to get into a car accident; it wouldn’t change a thing!
  3. We parents are terrible role models on this one.  I’d guess that well over half of the parents I see regularly text while driving — even with kids in the car!  Nothing bad will happen to us … we’re such good multi-taskers…!  And we’re supposed to be the role models, setting the proper examples. If we can’t ignore the beep or buzz, and we just need to see who’s texting so we can stay “connected” 24/7, driving or not, then how do we expect our kids to not follow our ignorant lead?
  4. Even though the technology must exist that would make using a cell phone while driving a car impossible, it has NOT made its way to the market yet.  I wonder why?  Could it be that the mega-phone companies, in conjunction with the monstrous technology and computer corporations, don’t want us to ever turn off our devices?  Could a few traffic deaths and car wrecks be a small price to pay when making huge $$$$ off cell contracts?  Give the people what they want!  Could making money be trumping good reason? Hmm ….
I promise you that doing nothing and hoping this problem will magically go away will not work.  So, if you’re looking for an answer to go with this problem, I think I may be onto something.  First of all, I don’t think kids (or adults for that matter) are just going to stop acting like cell phone addicts due to a few TV commercials or because they hear of some scary statistic.  And we can’t wait for the cell/tech companies to regulate themselves, as this will only happen if they lose enough money in lawsuits to make regulation cost-effective.

So for now, the ONLY way to curb this behavior markedly is to increase enforcement and punishment of texting drivers.

And by markedly, I’m talking make it a felony like a DUI, which would cost around $10,000 for every offense, plus would subject the offender to possible jail time, embarrassment, and the loss of license for maybe a year.  Look, the stats show this is way more of a danger than drunk driving, and unlike drunk driving, it seems EVERYONE is doing it.  So you stop the epidemic in its tracks by treating it like the crime that it is.  And maybe then, the roads will again be safe for the thoughtful drivers, like many of our non-texting children, who deserve that from us, at the very least.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Paul Chanan is a  father of two teenage children, and is a pretty infrequent texter who still likes talking on the phone, which makes him feel old.
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