I admit it freely. I am guilty. Guilty as charged. But I am in recovery. I just wish it were easier. As the pace of life and business continues to ramp up, we're all striving to do more with less. That's led to an explosion in the use of technologies that promise greater efficiency, higher productivity, and (we would hope) greater success by enabling us to stay in constant contact with the world around us. It's easy to forget that all that connectivity sometimes comes at the price of personal and public safety. Yes, we are talking about texting and driving. In a day and age when 24/7 availability and immediate responses seem to be expected, a lot of us are feeling the pressure to stay on top of things. Being in a car (or truck) a few hours no longer seems like an acceptable excuse for being out of touch.
Ray LaHood begs to disagree. LaHood, who is secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), has made no bones about his concerns about the dangers of distracted driving. In late January, his agency took steps to address the problem when it banned texting while driving by operators of commercial vehicles like large trucks and buses. And the agency put some teeth in its threat. Truck and bus drivers who text while operating commercial vehicles may be fined as much as $2,750, the DOT said.
LaHood's anti-texting crusade may not be over yet. It now appears that he has set his sights on banning the practice of texting while driving altogether.
As Senior Editor Mark Solomon recently reported, LaHood tipped his hand while speaking at a high-powered transportation and infrastructure conference on March 12 in Washington, D.C. In his address, LaHood said he was prepared to go on a "rampage" against what he called the epidemic of distracted driving. And although he didn't come right out and say it, he gave the distinct impression that he's on the verge of pushing to extend the texting ban to include all motorists.
Certainly, LaHood's remarks left little doubt about his views on the subject. Drivers should resist the urge to use cell phones at all while operating a vehicle, he told his audience. If you have to read or reply to a text message, he said, pull over first. He also suggested that drivers put their cell phones in the glove compartment while driving to avoid both the temptation and the distraction.
We can personally attest to the temptation. As for the distraction, it turns out the consequences of even momentary inattention are far greater than you might think. A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows that drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting. At speeds of 55 mph, that means a driver will travel the full length of a football field, including end zones, without seeing what's on the road in front of him or her. Clearly not good.
Further, the FMCSA estimates that drivers who are distracted by texting are fully 20 times more likely to get into an accident than a driver who is not texting. Most of us would agree that life already contains perils enough. It's hard to imagine any possible justification for doing something that ups your odds of having an accident by a factor of 20.
As the DOT secretary pointed out, each and every one of those all-important text messages will still be on your phone when you arrive at your destination. Do the smart thing. Wait to read and respond to your messages until you can do so without putting your life—and the lives of others—at risk. It's just not worth it.