We’ve all been there. Driving down the interstate, marveling at the multi-tasking we see going on in other cars. People behind the wheels of massive steel machines, barreling down the road at legal speeds of 70 mph, also applying makeup, eating lunch, talking on the phone, and texting. Some drivers have children in their cars, future drivers who are picking up their queue on the dos and don’ts of driving from their parents or older siblings. Is it okay to text while driving?
Sure, they are learning. After all, we’re sitting at a red light and there’s no time like the present to check Facebook or answer a friend’s quick text. But, then the light turns green and as other cars begin to move, so does the texter, intent on getting out that last “lol” or “ttyl.”
In a growing number of instances across the United States, that selfish need to get in a few keystrokes supersedes a driver’s desire to arrive alive and to be a safe and responsible citizen. As epidemics come and go, defining generations in their wake, distracted driving is at the top of this generation’s issues, and left unchecked, is proving to be deadly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road fatalities are up sharply, experiencing an 8% increase in 2015 over the previous year. In countless surveys, Americans confess to distracted driving on a daily basis, listing Snapchat, Facebook, emails, and texting as some of the activities they do while driving. So what is being done to stem the tide of distracted drivers? For many, concepts which rely heavily on 1980s innovations could be the key.
In much the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving took on drinking and driving with a fevered vengeance, MADD founder Candace Lightner has formed a new coalition, Partnership for Distraction-Free Driving. The goals of this group are to petition social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to discourage drivers from multi-tasking, much like MADD did with liquor stores and bars in the 1980s. Lawmakers in New York are working on legislation to make a Textalyzer, today’s cousin of the breathalyzer, a mainstay in patrol cruisers all over the state. The Textalyzer would allow officers the ability to immediately determine if a driver has been using their phone for emails, texts, or any other forbidden driving activities under New York’s hands-free driving laws. Privacy concerns are expected to stall the implementation of the Textalyzer as citizen advocacy groups insist the content of emails and texts could be used as incriminating information in other areas. Lawmakers insist the officer would only be able to detect the usage of the phone, rather than reviewing the full content of sent messages and emails. The Textalyzer legislation is named Evan’s Law, after Evan Lieberman who died in a car crash where his friend had been the driver. Evan’s father, Ben Lieberman, worked tirelessly to obtain phone records that ultimately proved Evan’s friend had been using his phone at the time of the crash. Ben Lieberman approached the company, Cellebrite, which worked with the government to unlock an Apple I phone earlier in the year, to help develop the technology needed to make the Textalyzer work. Because the laws are not on the books to support the Textalyzer at this time, the software hasn’t been built yet. But according to Cellebrite, the technology shouldn’t be too difficult to produce when necessary.
Many parents have adopted an out-of-sight, out-of-mind rule for teen drivers which includes either placing cell phones in glove boxes or tucking them away until their destination is reached, and are also utilizing powerful ad campaigns like AT&T’s current commercial which depicts the true stories of police officers and survivors recounting the last texted word of a friend or a loved one before crashing in a texting-related accident. But what about you and me? Are we doing what we can to stop this epidemic of distracted driving? Inasmuch as I would like to think I have a perfect no-text and driving record, I know I’ve been guilty of ripping off a quick text because it seemed imperative while at a red light. And, though, there are no earth-shattering revelations found on Facebook, I still get the notifications, and like Pavlov’s Dogs, I’m trained to look. It’s time we all got real with our conduct behind the wheel and take strides to inform and educate our children, friends, and co-workers about the dangers. We’re all in this together and it’s time to put texting into the proper context, which is this: It can wait until the keys are out of the ignition and there is no possible way your distraction can take the life of another.
Photos: Texting While Driving by Intel Free Press on Flickr, commercial use allowed
Don’t Text and Drive by Michael Babcock on Flickr, commercial use allowed