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Texting while driving ought to be illegal

Imagine a crazy and dangerous new trend, particularly among young people with whom such trends tend to start.

Imagine — work with me here — it somehow becomes way cool to read a magazine while driving, the drivers' eyes flicking back and forth between fast-moving traffic and something scintillating in Cosmo, Time or Teen People.

Insane, We The People would say!

Legislators, pass a law!

Police, hand out tickets and fat fines until everyone knows this scary, potentially crash-causing behavior will not be tolerated!

A question, then. How does this silly scenario differ from the real and dangerous practice of text-messaging while driving?

And a follow up: Why isn't this insanity illegal?

Fourteen states have sensibly banned texting while driving. But in Florida, it's not against the law to be behind the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle in traffic and at the same time send and receive text messages that require you to take your eyes off the road.

Would the word "insane" be redundant?

We're not even talking about the controversial, all-out banning of cell phones, God forbid, though their use in cars is blamed for 955 deaths in the U.S. in 2002, the last year stats were available. As for texting, a new study shows drivers doing so have a 23 times greater chance of a crash.

Drivers texting had their eyes off the road for nearly five seconds at a time. Check your watch and imagine the possibilities if the guy coming at you in traffic isn't looking up during those five long seconds.

More insanity? We know it's dangerous. Nearly 90 percent of drivers in a AAA survey called texting or e-mailing a "very serious threat to safety" akin to drinking and driving. Then 18 percent of the same people said in the past month they'd done it themselves.

Look at seat belts. Encourage people to buckle up, and some will. Make it the law — and empower police to pull over those who don't comply — and many more will.

Me, I know it's a bad idea to talk on my cell phone when I'm driving. I also know it's not against the law. So sometimes, I do it anyway.

Our state is kicking off a "Stay Alive, Just Drive" public education campaign aimed at curbing cell phone talking and texting. This is a good thing.

But where's our get-tough, anti-texting, stop-the-insanity law?

Tallahassee lawyer Jim Messer can answer that. As of the last legislative session, nowhere.

Messer started his own battle for a ban on what he calls "the functional equivalent of driving with your eyes closed" after he was run off the road by a texter/driver. Related bills have gone nowhere.

Is this really a surprise, given that texting translates into billions of dollars for the telecommunications industry, given how many of us are currently ticking away to say CALL U LTR? Fewer texts, fewer profits.

My 17-year-old niece just got her first car, a scary state of affairs even if she is a smart and able driver who has vowed no texting within its confines. Her I trust. (Are you listening, Katie?) Everyone else driving to school at the same time, not so much.

Next year comes a new legislative session, and with it, hope for some sanity in the insanity of how we drive. Or at least the basics: Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel.

Texting while driving ought to be illegal 07/31/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 6:06pm]
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