Txting and Driving: Is There a Policy Solution?

This morning, I spent a couple minutes on David Sirota’s morning show weighing in on the topic of texting and driving. As many of you know, I was hospitalized by a distracted driver a couple of weeks ago, so I was more than eager to participate in the discussion.

Here’s the podcast if you want to listen to the whole discussion.

I mentioned that texting and driving is illegal in Colorado as of the summer of 2010. But, as I have said consistently since, I doubt that the ban on texting and driving will make much real impact on the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. Because just like the “left lane is for passing only” law, the general public is either ignorant of its existence or willfully ignores it.

More after the jump…

And the issue extends far beyond texting. On my way to work today, for instance, I saw a woman using the mirror to apply makeup on the highway at 65mph. At that speed, you travel the length of a football field every three seconds, so your eyes should never leave the road. Yet, at any given moment, drivers on every road are eating, or texting, or doing any number of other activities that take their attention away from the road in front of them, often resulting in collisions.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation http://www.dot.gov/

…cell phone distractions cause some 600,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, and 3,000 deaths. This works out to more than 1,643 crashes, 904 injuries, and 8 deaths each day.

Full DOT statistics about distracted driving here.

So my question to you all is: Do you think there is a public policy solution to this problem, or does it have to be a cultural shift, similar to Denver’s water conservation efforts? (“This is how much you use… This is how much you need”)

In other words, is there anything the government can (or should) do about the problem of distracted driving?

19 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Snead says:

    you could ask the same about drinking and driving. The response, it seems to me, is a resounding no. People decide which laws are “important”. Penalties for DUI in some states are tougher than robberies, but they will probably never be tough enough as long as it is socially acceptable.

    • MADCO says:

      I recall reading about a state that had some ideas to deal with DUI.

      They planted troopers in  parking lots near the highway +/- 90 minutes of last call and pulled over anyone that looked wobbly.  Different bars, different nights, and it was working.  4th amendment and the bar owners stopped that.

      No one close the situation wants to stop DUI- not the servers, not the drivers, not the drinkers. Just the victims.  And for them we need tort reform ’cause they’re just looking for a free ride.

      • AndrewBateman says:

        And the same inherent problem exists for cell phone use. The companies involved (cell phone makers, service providers, etc) have no reason to attempt to fix the problem. The people who do it either don’t realize it’s dangerous or don’t care, and it’s too difficult to write a law that addresses it without civil rights issues.

        So, as someone who was recently a victim of this phenomena, I would really like to see a solution, but I’m not about to jump to some reactionary conclusion like forcibly disabling moving cell phones. And short of a “More You Know” style campaign that causes more people to acknowledge the danger and change their behavior willingly, I don’t think that there is a public policy solution.

        That’s why I started this thread, I wanted to see if anyone else had ideas.  

  2. AndrewBateman says:

    A friend of mine, who is a police officer, had this to say on Facebook:

    Believe me, I’ve tried VERY hard to write this ticket. I am finding it impossible to enforce. Oh, how I long for the day that someone will be traveling on the highway near my patrol vehicle and within eye-shot, oblivious to my presence, texting while driving.

    If, by chance, someone admits to me post traffic crash that they were texting and that was the cause, I’ll so enforce this. 😉

    My day will come…

    So, on top of obviously not working as a deterrent, the law just isn’t written in a way that empowers law enforcement to actually do anything about it.

    • harrydobyharrydoby says:

      Cell phone companies (Sprint, T-Mobile) are already providing one solution.

      When activated, the DriveSmart application determines how quickly a phone is switching between cell phone towers. When it senses that the phone is moving faster than 10 mph, within a few minutes, it automatically sends phone calls to voicemail or a hands-free Bluetooth headset (depending on which version the customer selects). It sends text messages to a user’s inbox.

      Depending on the phone, the application can also disable audible alerts so that the driver isn’t even aware of incoming messages.

      The app is optional, and not available for all phones.  The policy question is:  should there be a law mandating this capability in all phones?

      Does the cost to society outweigh the price of individual choice?

      • nancycronknancycronk says:

        I find it very difficult to believe a police officer has not seen anyone texting while they drive. I’ve seen it many times, and not always among teenagers. Sometimes it is men in suits driving nice cars, or Moms in SUVs with a bunch of kids in the back. I also see police officers driving while surfing the net or typing on their front-seat mounted computers. That scares the hell out of me.

        I’m not perfect — I’ve never texted while driving, but I’ve been known to put on lipstick a time or two. Everyone’s done something like it. Your accident, and this diary, are a reminder to us all how dangerous it is to do anything but drive while driving.

        I’m glad you were not more seriously injured. I wish you a very speedy recovery for the rest of it.  

      • AndrewBateman says:

        Public transportation.

        One of the great incentives of public transportation is that you can get stuff done. I know that, when I rode the light rail every day, I used that time in the morning to read the news and catch up on emails.

        If we mandate that all moving cell phones are disabled, You are then disabling the phones (and/or other devices) of a lot of people that might just return to the highways if you take away their ability to be productive.

        This problem also applies to passengers in cars.

        Not to mention the fact that it will simply never happen. There are civil rights issues with that can of mandate and the cellphone companies will never do it willingly because it’s in their interest for you to use those devices as often and as much as possible.

        • harrydobyharrydoby says:

          There would be trade-offs in any automated/legislated solution.

          A couple of modifiers on both fronts:

          1.  Legislation that would increase penalties (ala DUI) where clear evidence, post-accident, of driver’s cellphone use as a causative factor.

          2.  Software passcode that would unlock the cellphone while in motion.  Enables the device while in motion, but also implicitly asserts you aren’t operating a vehicle while in use.  If you have an accident and the mobile lock has been defeated, see #1 above.

          • nancycronknancycronk says:

            that showed the severity of a punishment had little to do with deterring crime, but the likelihood of being caught is a strong deterrent. One of the examples they used was at public hangings for pickpocketing, where the crowd assembled to watch was filled with pickpockets doing what they did best. A more current example are the people convicted of bootlegging movies or music off the internet — the penalties are extreme, but only one in many millions get convicted, so everyone does it.

            • harrydobyharrydoby says:

              Pervasive enforcement and probability of getting caught absolutely factor into the effectiveness of any “no texting” laws.

              Orwell couldn’t have imagined a more perfect “Big Brother” device than the one we carry around in our pocket or purse.

              It remembers everytime you use it with an accurate date and time stamp.  The only question is, would the police have the motivation and legal right to inspect the information to make the charges stick?

    • MADCO says:

      a way to ask for the device, check the time of the last sent text and go by that.


      Police clock says 1605

      Officer observes violation. (speed, , weaving, rolling stop, etc)

      Officer pulls over vehicle, requests license, insurance and phone/texting device.  Checks all against the appropriate data bases, and issues appropriate citation .

  3. Car 31 says:

    Not policy.

    Legislating behavior is often fruitless.  

    • allyncooper says:

      I think it’s one of personal responsibility. I don’t talk on the phone while driving and I tell people that on my voice mail greeting, so just leave a message and I’ll call back.

      In a similar issue, Rep. Su Ryden has introduced legislation in the past to make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense for ticketing, but I think that goes too far. You can’t legislate everything.  

      • MADCO says:

        Speed limits seem especially useless.

        The difference between seat belt laws and other distraction laws is who gets hurt.  If I don’t wear a seat belt, it doesn’t hurt  others.    

        So how about we just tell everyone not to text while driving because it’s dangerous.  That ought to do it.  It worked for you.

      • Tom says:

        Primary seatbelt laws are notorious for allowing police an easy excuse to pull over anyone they want and are implicated in enabling a lot of profiling. Texting laws seem like a similar kettle of fish since they’re either unenforceable or far too easily (and selectively) enforced. A much better solution would be to simply make it much harder to text or make cell phone calls in a moving car. There are software solutions for that already.

        I suspect that rather than legislating the use of software blocks, it will be start to happen as a default once some over-litigious insurance company goes after a cell phone manufacturer or telecom.

  4. PitaPita says:

    The cops will pull you over and ticket you if they see you with a cell and trust me they do.

    • AndrewBateman says:

      I think if you are going to bother having laws that address cell phones and driving, it has to be all or nothing. If you allow some uses and not others, then it’s a worthless law because the driver can simply claim to have been doing something else (ie dialing versus texting)

    • Pam Bennett says:

      Any holding of cell phone for voice or texting is a primary. However, I have never heard of nor seen anyone stopped for cell phone use. The use of hand held cell phone conversations is more prevalent than not talking. Around here the person not on a cell phone is unusual.

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