Ban texting while driving
August 05, 2009 05:00 am

Some kinds of behavior are self-evidently stupid. You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that chugging bleach is a bad idea, or that Hawaii is a safer vacation spot than Afghanistan.

Neither is research necessary to establish the danger of texting while driving. Nevertheless, such research does exist.

In a study of truck drivers cited recently by The New York Times, texting elevated the risk of mayhem 23-fold. Stating the obvious, the director of the institute that conducted the study concluded that “You should never do this.”

A separate set of researchers used simulators to gauge the ability of college students to drive while texting. They couldn’t, at least safely. In this case, texting raised the crash risk eight-fold, prompting one of the chief researchers to call the behavior “crazy.”

Of course, most people know it’s crazy. According to the Times, 87 percent those participating in a recent survey consider drivers who text or e-mail a “very serious” traffic threat. As you might guess, 95 percent of those surveyed said texting while driving is unacceptable behavior. Yet 21 percent of those surveyed said they do it anyway.

The willingness of so many Americans to do something so dangerous argues in favor of a ban like the one introduced this week in the U.S. Senate. The four Democrats who introduced the bill want to cut the flow of federal highway funds to states that fail to ban texting while driving. The punishment wouldn’t affect Oregon, thanks to a ban imposed by the Legislature this year. But most states haven’t prohibited texting behind the wheel. Thus, the federal ban doesn’t enjoy the universal support it deserves.

An odd criticism comes from the Governors Highway Safety Association. The group, which advocates on behalf of state safety agencies, opposes the ban because it would be very difficult to enforce, according to the Times. It would, indeed, be tough to enforce. But many people will be less inclined to text while driving if they know it’s against the law. At the moment, irresponsible drivers can always point to the fact texting, dumb though it may be, is legal in most places.

Does anyone honestly believe it should be?

— Wescom News Service