Many people claim that they want less government intrusion in their lives. But a recent survey suggests that when it comes to texting, talking on cell phones, and other distractions while driving, people want government to save them from themselves.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost nine out of 10 drivers it surveyed believe that state governments should make reading, typing, or sending text messages or emails while driving illegal. Yet more than a third of respondents admitted to having texted or emailed in the previous month while they were operating a motor vehicle.
Two-thirds of the people surveyed support restricting the use of hand-held cell phones while driving as well. But an equal number said they had used their cell phone at least once in the past month while driving, and more than a third said they did so frequently.
The disconnect between the attitude of people toward distracted driving and their willingness to engage in distracting activities is not surprising. The same survey found that nearly all drivers disapprove of drinking and driving, yet a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health said that one in eight drivers — more than 30 million people — had driven while under the influence of alcohol at least once in the previous year.
To a degree, the survey reflects the attitude held by some people that rules are for lesser humans who can’t handle their booze or text and drive at the same time. They, on the other hand, are wonderfully talented drivers who are capable of reading and writing text messages at 65 mph in heavy traffic.
The survey also suggested that for many people, it is easier to do what they know is right when moral certitude is backed up by legal penalties. Whatever the reason people ignore their better judgment, distracted driving is a serious problem that has gotten exponentially worse as emailing and text messaging have become more popular.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in six highway deaths in 2009 was caused by distracted driving. Studies have shown that texting impairs driving ability more than being under the influence of alcohol.
Yet while highway fatalities have declined to their lowest level since 1950, the percentage of deaths attributable to driver distraction increased from 10 percent in 2005 to 16 percent in 2009.
A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Utah found that only one in 40 drivers was capable of multitasking safely behind the wheel. And in the four seconds the average driver looks away from the road while texting, a vehicle going 60 miles and hour will travel 352 feet, more than the length of a football field.
Toledo banned this dangerous practice nearly two years ago. Last year, the Ohio House gave overwhelming bipartisan support to a bill to prohibit text messaging, only to have the legislation die in the Senate. The House passed a similar bill in June by an even larger margin, but the GOP-led Senate has yet to act on it.
Thirty-four states already have outlawed texting while driving. State senators need to get the message.