It’s hard to argue with the basic premise of new federal legislation that would ban motorists from texting or sending e-mail messages while driving.
To many of us, choosing not to type a message with your thumbs while trying to operate a motor vehicle is a matter of simple common sense. It just isn’t possible to pay adequate attention to driving while taking short or long glances at a cell phone screen while you tap out a message that apparently is so important that it can’t wait until you reach your destination, but not important enough to warrant pulling over and giving it your full attention.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems able to make the sensible choice on this matter. For that reason, members of the U.S. Senate have introduced a bill that would force states to pass laws within two years to prohibit messaging in vehicles or risk losing 25 percent of their federal highway money. It’s the same tactic federal lawmakers have used to compel states to pass seat belt laws and other traffic safety measures. Money talks.
Some might say that vigorously enforcing laws against inattentive driving would take care of this issue or that the federal law should be expanded to include all kinds of other driving distractions, such as reading newspapers, eating or talking on the phone. However, various studies — as well as casual observation — support the contention that text-messaging drivers are such a proven traffic threat that they deserve special attention.
Just this week, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study on commercial truck drivers that revealed texting drivers were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or a near miss. Texting also was cited in a Michigan State Medical Society study this year as among the top driving distractions that led to accidents.
States have begun to attack this problem individually, passing various laws against text messaging or cell phone use. The Kansas Legislature even took the modest step of banning the use of “wireless communication devices” for the first six months after a person’s first full driver’s license is issued.
States might be able to handle this matter on their own, but the seriousness of the text-messaging problem seems to warrant nationwide action — and tough enforcement, hopefully before, not after, accidents occur.