Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Public safety

Sue Carlton: The people have spoken, so can we pass that don't-be-stupid driving law already?

According to headlines of late, some elected representatives were ready to hurl us off a fiscal cliff, but for that last-minute save.

Also, headlines told us this week we have in our midst people who actually believe firing a gun in the air can be "celebratory" rather than just "incredibly, deadly stupid."

And even as we shed one official who did not see why porn and public work do not mix, we now get to read of another. (Sigh.)

So it was a relief to read this week a headline about something stunning in its sensibility:

Turns out around here, we believe allowing a driver to motor a vehicle down the highway while looking not at the road ahead but at a cellphone to text is, to repeat a phrase, incredibly, deadly stupid. Nearly 90 percent of us support enacting a Florida law banning texting while driving, according to a recent Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/AM 820 News Tampa Bay poll — legislation that by the way most states already have.

Halloooo, Tallahassee?

Anyone listening up there?

Yet again, our lawmakers have a chance to pass this no-brainer ban, something they have failed to do before. So okay, let's consider the kind of objections that ran roughshod over common sense in the past:

This is government intrusion into the privacy of my car and an assault on my personal freedoms! Well, sure. So are seat belts, speed limits and a myriad of laws that exist not just to protect you but me in my car in the lane next to you. And I can't seem to find that part of the Constitution specifically guaranteeing the right to be incredibly, deadly stupid while endangering others, too.

Cellphones are the real problem, so ban them! All or nothing! Talking on a cellphone at the wheel is the kind of distracted driving that factors into thousands of traffic deaths and injuries a year. I agree we should ban drivers from using them, so people like me tempted to talk instead of giving full attention to the road would cut it out.

But this is politics, and taking away our cellphones is a much tougher sell. Stopping texting — which at 55 miles an hour has been compared to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed — is at least a start.

Why not ban eating or putting on make-up while driving while we're at it? This one's a head fake. Again: Distracted driving, bad idea. But texting is a unique, particularly dangerous activity that takes a driver's eyes and mind completely off the road (see football field, above.) It's also alarmingly attractive to younger drivers — nearly 70 percent who reported doing so in a recent survey. And how scary is that?

The newly proposed law doesn't go far enough, so why bother? The latest version does not have teeth as sharp as some of us would like: Police have to pull you over for some other offense first, and the fine is a mere $30, not as come-to-Jesus scary as a speeding ticket can be.

But this is legislative horse trading and the give-and-get that is Tallahassee. Even with those pain-easing caveats tucked into it, a texting ban is better than allowing people to drive around with their heads bent over their cell phones.

It is at least a start. Now we can only hope lawmakers hear the voters who have spoken and head down that road to common sense. And hey, maybe save some lives on the way.

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