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Why We Text and Drive

By Steven Ivory | 6/27/2014, 4:40 p.m.
The United States Department of Transportation reports that cell phones are involved in 1.6 million auto crashes each year that cause a half million injuries and take 6,000 lives.

Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward-Times. While sitting at the light on a backed-up Los Angeles freeway exit ramp one morning, I noticed that one out of every three drivers getting onto the freeway on the other side of the divider—both private vehicles and professional cars and trucks with company names and logos on them–had their heads tilted into their laps, as if either texting, reading a text or dialing a phone number.

Some of them appeared able to do it with more finesse than others—their actions weren’t so obvious—but I’m sure most of them were doing what I thought they were doing. They were texting while driving.

This is what we do now. It’s not enough that for years we have been distracted by cell phone conversation. Today, behind the wheels of moving automobiles, using one or two hands, on smart phones we type out messages and conversations.

You can usually tell when someone is texting or dialing a number while driving. Their faces are usually aimed just below their steering wheel. They’re driving unusually slow. They weave. After the light has changed or traffic is moving, they’re still sitting there.

A lot of people do it. The United States Department of Transportation reports that cell phones are involved in 1.6 million auto crashes each year that cause a half million injuries and take 6,000 lives. Individuals who drive while sending or reading text messages are 23 percent more likely to be involved in a car crash than other drivers. A crash typically happens within an average of three seconds after a driver is distracted.

Despite those figures, people still text.

That this is illegal in many states is not a deterrent. Currently, the fines for being caught doing so—in California it’s between $20 and $50 dollars–are laughable (although in Alaska a maximum first time texting penalty can mean a $10,000 fine and one year in jail).

I’ve actually tried to guilt drivers into putting down their phones; damn near rear-ended the car in front of me trying to stare down a texter. I know—it’s not smart and it’s a form of harassment. They simply glance over at me and keep texting, anyway. The person who comes up with a way to stop drivers from texting is going to make a mint.

I’ve an idea: have city municipalities create divisions that track people texting in their cars. Kind of like parking ticket officers. They’d move among the public in unmarked cars of all makes and models, equipped with cameras that can shoot people in the act—or have technology aboard that can detect texting happening in a vehicle.

Using a car’s license number, they send the ticket in the mail. And that first fine is a doozy: $1,000. The second time you get caught, that fine is doubled, and on and on until you reach ten grand. Get caught after that, your car is impounded, your license is suspended for a year and you go to jail. Texting is dissuaded; cities make money.