We all know texting and cell phone use is dangerous while driving. So, we pass laws that make it a violation. These laws didn't do didly! Surveys conducted before and after bans on cell phones and texting show no reduction in their use. Absent confiscating a driver's vehicle for a violation, there isn't much that can be done. In other words, cell phone use and texting is so important to so many drivers, mostly the younger drivers, that they will risk getting caught, and worse yet, risk a serious crash, before they will not use a cell phone or text while driving.
Car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. Nearly 5,500 people in the US were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2009. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, released statistics from a poll in 2011 that showed 63 percent of drivers under 30 acknowledged using a hand-held cell phone while behind the wheel. Thirty percent admitted to texting while driving. LaHood said teens are especially vulnerable because of their inexperience at driving, and often peer pressure increases distracted driving practices by teens.
What is even more disturbing is that only 30 percent of those drivers under 30 years old felt it was dangerous to use a hand-held phone while driving, according to a poll conducted by Consumer Reports. So, what we have is a dangerous distracted driving practice by drivers that don't even think it's dangerous. What a recipe for disaster!
Risk-taking is somewhat inherent in all of us, and is usually more prevalent in youth. I guess we get smarter as we get older - at least we seem to understand risky behavior better. Now, if we know that we are undertaking a risk, or engaging in risky behavior, we are more careful than if we are doing something without risk. If we try walking (or running) across a busy street, we are more cautious than if we are walking down the sidewalk. If we drive on Auto Route 401 through the middle of Toronto, which happens to be the busiest highway in North America, we pay a lot more attention to our driving than if we are on a residential street with little or no other traffic, because we understand the different degree of danger highway 401 presents versus the quiet residential street.
The point is, if we perceive something is dangerous, we exercise more attention and care to what we are doing. If we engage in something that is risky but do not perceive it as risky, then we fail to pay the attention required to hopefully succeed in getting past the risk without death or injury.
So, what is the next step we, as a state or nation, should take relative to dealing with distracted driving, and more particularly, texting and cellphone use while driving? I don't have the answer, and neither do our lawmakers. However, one person seemed to have an idea that might work. His proposal was this. If, as experts say, cell phone use and using electronic devices like texting are as dangerous as drunk driving, why not make the penalties similar to drunk driving. That would be a lot stiffer than the current sanctions of fines of $100 (cell phone use) and $150 (texting) and only two points on your license.
For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's website at www.franklincony.org and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments then look for Did You Know articles under "services."