The biggest threat to my personal safety is not guns, or terrorists, or criminals. It’s people texting and driving. And I’m fed up.
Every single day, I drive on the GW Parkway to and from work. Every single day, at least one person will be swerving in between lanes. Every single day, that one person is texting.
Over the holidays, I did far too much driving. From DC to Connecticut. From Connecticut to Long Island and back. From Connecticut to DC. Hours upon hours spent in the car, and hours upon hours screaming at people trying to text and drive.
For all the bluster around distracted driving, the punishments are simply not strict enough. Especially in light of evidence that people who are texting on the smartphone literally cannot multi-task. If you are texting, your brain cannot support another function.
While texting and driving – commonly referred to as ‘distracted driving’ – is banned in nearly every state, that has only nominally affected the rate of accidents. According to the CDC, 9 people die every day in accidents caused by distracted driving. In 2013, 341,000 motor vehicle accidents involved texting.
These are mind-blowing numbers, yet the issue is given little more than lip services. Yes, texting and driving is bad, and yes it is illegal. But if you get caught, it’s just a fine. Did that last speeding ticket keep you from speeding? Why would a texting ticket keep you from texting?
When I got my license 18 years ago, my biggest concern was driving at night and avoiding drunk drivers. But it is usually pretty easy to spot and avoid a drunk driver. They don’t do a very good job of hiding their intoxication, as their car would swerve absurdly, and you can make a plan in your head in advance of how to pass the car.
Texting and driving is potentially more dangerous because there are no warning signs. You’re following a car going 65 in the left lane and suddenly, they’re going 40. Or the car in the middle lane will inexplicably cross over to the right lane without a signal, because the driver doesn’t even know a lane change has happened.
Even worse, and what I deal with too frequently, are distracted drivers going too slow and causing issues behind them. There is an average of one fender-bender I pass on a daily basis and I would love to know how much is caused by smartphone use. Because on a two-lane highway, a car going too slow in the left lane during a busy rush hour can back up traffic for a mile.
Texting and driving has been an issue for years but the addition of emailing and driving thanks to smartphones has taken distracted driving to a whole new level. The vast majority of people that cause problems on my daily commute are adults, not teens. They are my age or older and clearly trying to get work done. The work cannot be that important. If it is, pull off the road.
For many years, drunk driving carried little punishment. Once the issue became a public safety issue, the punishments were made stiffer, jail time started to be doled out and the rate of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half over the past 25 years.
Why don’t we treat texting and driving the same way? Aren’t those 9 lives lost per day worth it?
My proposal is simple: if you’re caught texting and driving, you spend the night in jail. We have lumped all cell phone usage together while driving and that’s not right. Quickly glancing to see who is calling you, as a driver can safely look away from the road for 2 seconds, or answering a call with eyes on the road is different than staring down at a screen as you type a message.
If you got a ticket for distracted driving, you would be ticked off, but it would not deter you from doing it again.
If you spent a night in jail for distracted driving, you would be ticked off and you would never, ever, ever text and drive again.
For most crimes, jail time is not an effective deterrent. This is an exception. There’s no reason why people should needlessly die when we can eradicate the problem.