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FLETCHER: OMG -- Lord, save us from texting drivers

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

… Hoping one day soon someone will save us from ourselves.

— Pennywise

I’ve said in this space before that, among the many technological marvels mass-produced in my lifetime, the modern-day do-everything cellphones and such devices are, well, the most marvelous.

But the time has come, since we’ve proven ourselves incapable of tempering our love for and dependence on these devices even for the time it takes us to drive from Point A to Point B, for strict laws to be enacted making driving while using cellphones — and especially texting while driving — illegal. Punishable by severe enough fines to make us stop.

And, yes, such laws would impact me because I find myself talking and driving any number of times during the day. But I guess I’m one of the few folks who realizes I could actually live without having a phone attached to my person at all times. And I believe if I had to make a phone call while driving, it wouldn’t be an overwhelming imposition to pull off the road and make that call.

The National Safety Council released statistics earlier this year that showed 21 percent of all 2010 vehicle crashes in this country — more than 1.1 million — involved cellphone usage. Another 3 percent — somewhere between 160,000 and 490,000 — involved texting.

More statistics from the Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 9 percent of all drivers during a given daylight moment are talking on cellphones (I think this one’s low); drivers are four times more of a crash risk while talking on phones and are from 8 to 23 percent more likely to crash while texting. Perhaps most sobering: Drivers are six times more likely to crash while texting than they are while driving intoxicated.

It’s aggravating enough when you sit through a couple of traffic signal cycles waiting on the dunce in the car ahead of you to finish his or her cellphone call or complete that life-altering text. It’s a bit more serious when you find yourself dodging two-ton metal boxes going 75 miles per hour being driven by some dunderhead who has to make sure her BFF gets to LOL at the latest bit of texted hilarity making the rounds.

In an ideal world, we’d all realize that we are not as good at driving as we like to think we are, and we’re even less so when we’re either distracted by conversation or we’re composing our response to a text. (Side note: I find it amazing that young people are particularly drawn to texting every minute detail of their lives to people they see every few minutes and yet they gripe about having to write a 200-word English paper.) In that perfect world, we’d police our own driving habits.

But we don’t live in that perfect world, as the above referenced statistics show.

Sadly, it seems folly to think local, state and national government agencies — agencies that ban a food dye that may have been a factor in causing tumors in a small number of lab rats and yet refuse to ban tobacco, the proven No. 1 cause of all cancers … that allow the distribution of alcoholic products proven to impair those who partake of them while banning comparatively harmless marijuana … and that closely regulate such things as where you can fly an American flag while allowing the purchase of dangerous weapons to go all but unchecked — will ever take legitimate action to protect us from ourselves.

So, driver beware, you’re on your own out there.

I offer this surreal real-life experience as an example. I eased by a driver recently who was going a good 15-20 mph under the speed limit and weaving in and out of his lane of traffic. When I cautiously pulled alongside him, I noticed he was furiously texting a message, looking up every few words or so to see where he was going. I was so angry I blew my horn and pulled over to the side of the road.

I thought I was about to witness a bit of sweet instant karma when, as fate would have it, I saw a law enforcement vehicle pulling up behind the driver. My anticipated righteous indignation soon turned to stunned disbelief, though: The officer driving the vehicle was — I swear — texting as he drove.