Thursday, July 8, 2010

Joseph O. Patton: Don’t read this while driving.. K? LOL.

  As the city of Prattville enacts its ban on texting while driving and the city of Montgomery considers doing the same - to include cell phone usage while driving - some citizens are lashing out, insisting that they need to be able to text or chat on the phone while driving and that the government should not interfere with these activities, arguing that such issues are a “personal responsibility.” Those dying on our roads as a result of such reckless behavior would likely beg to differ….

  Texting while driving accounted for nearly a third of all traffic accidents in the United States in 2008, so we’re not discussing an isolated problem or merely a handful of people behaving dangerously and jeopardizing the lives of others (NHTSA - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Over 80 percent of Americans admit to texting while driving (NHTSA). It’s a certified public hazard.

  Those who engage in texting while driving or talking on the phone insist that they’re not distracted. They’re fatally mistaken. According to a University of Utah study, distraction due to cell phone usage while driving has been shown to be as harmful as drunk driving. According to the NHTSA, using a wireless device while driving is the number one cause of driver inattention in the United States. Those who think they can engage in this dangerous form of multi-tasking are fooling themselves and creating a public safety hazard. A Carnegie Mellon study revealed that cell phone usage decreases the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. And let‘s be honest with ourselves, most of us don’t have that much brain power to spare….

  Also, drivers who use a cell phone are four times as likely to cause an accident which results in injury (NHTSA). Drivers who text while driving are eight times more likely to cause an accident (Univ. of Utah study). It should also be noted that those most likely to text while driving are the least-experienced drivers on the road, 16-19 year olds (Univ. of Utah study).

  The most common complaint by citizens opposed to such a ban is that they insist they should be able to text or talk on the phone in case of an emergency. That’s certainly a valid concern, but 1) it’s extremely rare that the individual can’t pull over/park in order to do so, 2) is having an existing emergency reason to cause another emergency by driving recklessly as a result of texting or using the phone in the process?

  To those who believe various levels of government should not dictate how drivers behave surely haven’t been the victim of a reckless, texting or talking, driver. If these hands-off individuals truly believe the government shouldn’t restrict texting or cell phone usage, why don’t they also call for the repeal of DUI laws and speed limits? How are those statues any different than a potential ban on texting or phone usage while driving?

  All of these laws are on the books with the intent of pushing drivers to act responsibility. If someone truly believes the government shouldn’t “interfere,” then why don’t they lobby to remove all the stop signs, traffic signals and other “interferences” with our driving? For that matter, if we should leave things to personal responsibility, why not repeal laws that prohibit child abuse/neglect, sexual assault and domestic abuse? Do you trust everyone in America to simply act “responsibly” and let the government sit on its proverbial hands and merely hope for the best?

  Not only are these practices a threat to others’ lives and property, they’re inexcusably arrogant and selfish as well. When someone engages in this form of reckless driving, they’re essentially saying that their phone conversation or text message is more important than your personal safety and the safety of your friends or family who may also be in your vehicle. So get over yourselves please - your text message or cell phone chatter isn’t more important than my life or the lives of my loved ones.

  We should support reasonable measures to prevent and/or punish reckless driving, including criminal charges and penalties. And cell phone usage and/or texting while driving assuredly qualify as “reckless,” no different than driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. By failing to act to stem this problem, we are giving reckless people a license to harm us all.

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

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