Hang up and drive!

Texting while driving has become
a disturbing trend among motorists

Anti-text laws in 30 states
can’t separate us from our phones


(February 2011)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

I spent two weeks vacationing in South Florida over the holidays, so I spent a considerable amount of time on the road. The opportunity to view the driving public close up for that many days led me to one conclusion: We don’t just drive anymore, we drive and text!
It’s not enough these days to simply drive our vehicles at high speeds down the interstate or maneuver through multiple lanes of traffic in cities and towns. We must do so while communicating with friends on our cell phones.
Notice I said communicate, not talk. Talking on a cell phone is passe’; today, it’s all about texting.
The degree to which this texting phenomenon has taken over our lives really hit me while I was driving through Georgia and passed under a large lighted sign stretched overhead across all six lanes of interstate traffic that read: “Texting while driving is illegal in Georgia.”
Have we really come to this: Lighted interstate signs warning us not to text and drive?
I would not have seen the sign had I not just hit the “send” button on my phone and looked up just as I passed under it.
Seriously, I really don’t text and drive, just as I’m sure you don’t either.
Kentucky’s new law against texting while driving went into effect April 25, 2010. Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from even using a cell phone while driving in the Bluegrass State. First-time offenders will receive a $25 fine; additional fines will be $50 plus court costs.
There were 791 fatalities on Kentucky roadways in 2009, declining for the fourth consecutive year.  More than 200 of those fatalities were attributed to distraction, inattention or cell phone use.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving distracted drivers, and more than a half million were injured. Inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
Indiana lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing through new legislation to outlaw texting while driving in the Hoosier State. If passed, it would join 30 states that currently ban texting while driving. Indiana law already prohibits drivers younger than 18 from texting while driving.
Texting while driving now rivals drinking and driving. What next? No eating and driving? No applying makeup and driving? No arguing with your spouse or significant other and driving? No disciplining your children in the back seat and driving? No reading the newspaper and driving?
If this trend continues, pretty soon we will be down to just driving while driving. How boring is that? Next thing you know, they’ll be forcing us to wear seat belts!
This newly imposed order of no texting while driving sounds like such a regression for us motorists who over the years have become talented multitaskers while behind the wheel. Now we’ve got huge, lighted signs on the roads telling us what we can and can’t do as we hurdle down the interstate at 80 mph.
Well, driving certainly isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. I try to explain this to my 15-year-old daughter, who in March will earn her learner’s permit. But it has been a challenge to talk to her about it because I have only seen the top of her head for the past two years – because she is always texting!
Soon, she will be out there joining the driving and texting crowd, trying to get from one place to another while at the same time answering her friends’ all-important text question: “Wassup?”
Statistics show that distraction-related auto accidents (i.e. cell phones) are more of a problem for younger drivers than older ones.
Obviously, that’s because the older we get, the harder it is for us to even read those small screens or punch the tiny keys on our Blackberries and I-Phones. We have a hard enough time reading road signs the size of a semi truck, much less text messages the size of a gnat.
While I have not yet met anyone who has been cited for texting while driving, I’m sure the time will come when this misdemeanor will eventually rise to the importance of speeding and rolling through stop signs (which, of course, I also never do!).
And, similarly, I expect that the cell phone user’s age-old question, “Can you hear me now?” will soon morph into the texted expression: “OMG I just ran my car into the ditch! TTYL!”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.


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