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Should States Ban Texting While Driving? Reaction Paper Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1969

Reaction Paper

Texting increases the probability of an accident while driving. The frustrating reality is that even though the general public as well as law enforcement agencies tend to agree upon the dangers of texting while driving, the state lawmakers have been slow to respond. The National Safety Council recommends the Congress that states should ban use of hand-held and hands-free cell phones and similarly, businesses prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving on the job. As of April 2009, 11 states which are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia had laws banning texting while driving. Another 10 states which are Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and West Virginia had laws banning teens and new drivers from texting (L., Precious, & Precious, 2009).

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) records data on all road fatalities on public roads in the U.S. An analysis of FARS showed that fatalities declined from 1999 to 2005 but the trend reversed after that. Fatalities from distracted driving rose from 4572 in 2005 to 5870 in 2008, recording an overall increase of 28% over the period and the analysis also revealed that crashes increasingly involved male drivers colliding with roadside obstructions in urban areas. The authors of the study estimated thatfrom 2001 to 2007, more than 16,000 additional road fatalities were due to increased texting volumes(Wilson & Stimpson, 2010).

Approximately 1 in 6 fatal vehicle collisions resulted from a driver being distracted while driving in 2008. Studies using a naturalistic methodology suggested that drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash. In 2009, distracted driving led to an estimated 5,500 fatalities and nearly 450,000 injuries. Numerous studies show that texting reduces response times and greatly increase the risk of collision. A speed of just 60 MPH means that a distance equal to the length of a football field can be covered in less than four seconds which means that drivers who text are essentially driving blind for hundreds of yards (Ban texting while driving, 2011).

According to John Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, “All it takes to cause an accident is to be distracted for as little as three seconds.” He adds that driving is a full time job and requires full time attention. A Maryland Senator would have certainly agreed with Mr. Townsend, “People should drive with both hands on the wheel, which is why using cell phone is dangerous, but texting poses the most extreme peril of all. If a person is texting while driving he or she is using both hands on the little electronic device and paying no attention to the road. That’s terrifying.” as she sponsored legislation in 2009 to make it a misdemeanor in the state for anyone to write, send or read a text message while operating a vehicle. Illinois Rep. Tom Holbrook sponsored similar legislation in his state and told the story of a man who died while texting his girlfriend, “People think they can multitask, and they can’t. The results are death and carnage on the road. Texting is the most extreme form of not paying attention while driving.” A study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis puts the annual financial toll of cell phone related crashes at $43 billion (Boyter, 2009).

David Strayer, a Psychology professor as well as a research team director at the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah estimatesthat drivers are eight times more likely to get into an accident while text messaging. Similarly, a study by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2008 found that people who texted while driving failed to detect hazards, responded to hazards more slowly, and had dangerously slowed reaction times which could easily make the difference between causing and avoiding an accident or between a fatal and non-fatal collision. Technology has progressed at a tremendous pace over the last decade, for e.g. in 2000, only 12.2 million SMS messages were sent but the number had increased to 7.2 billion in 2005. Since then the number of text messages has increased by more than 1,000 percent (Boyter, 2009).

While the lawmakers have failed to keep up pace with the technological trends and the evolving driving habits on the road, fortunately, some private sector organizations have taken steps to ban cell phone use including texting while driving. UPS and Verizon Communications, Inc. have a zero tolerance policy on using cell phones and other hand held devices while driving. Oprah Winfrey has partnered with the Governors Highway Safety Association on an awareness campaign called “No Phone Zone” which aims to persuade drivers to discontinue cell phone use while driving (Casale, 2010). Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood informed the audience at a National Distracted Driving Summit that nearly 1,600 companies and groups with about 10.5 million employees have distracted driving policies in place and an additional 550 entities with 1.5 million employees are expected to do so within a year (Kirby, 2010).

President Obama signed an executive order in October 2009 that prohibits federal employees from engaging in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles (HR Specialist: Employment Law). Similarly, the Transportation Department also banned drivers of interstate trucks and commercial buses or vans with more than eight passengers from texting while driving in 2010 (Aspen Publishers Inc., 2010). By taking an action on the issue, the federal government has emphasized the magnitude of the risks posed by the drivers who engage in texting. But the fact that the ban came through an executive order and not a federal or states’ laws probably indicates that the president thought the lawmakers have been slow to respond to the issue and he had no choice but to take a swift action on his own.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood understands the stakes involved. He asked auto companies to minimize technology distractions in vehicles at a national Distracted Driving Summit. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died and 448,000 were injured in 2009 due to distracted driving-related crashes. The death toll represented 16% of over-all traffic fatalities even though Mr. LaHood estimated the number to be higher because not all states require driver distractions to be documented on accident reports and drivers are always not honest about the cause of the accident(Kirby). While one cannot force the drivers to be honest but states can take actions to prohibit drivers from risky driving behaviors. Once I was in New York and a cab driver told me that they are not even allowed to put Bluetooth or an earpiece set connected to cellphone in ear while on the job. He said that if a cab driver is found with a Bluetooth set in ear, the cops will issue him a ticket even if he had not been talking to someone. This struck me as a great example of lowering the possibility of a risky behavior because while a cab driver could challenge the cop’s account of engaging in cellphone communication through the Bluetooth set, the fact that the Bluetooth was found attached to the ears would be harder to refute.

The concerns over cellphone use while driving are not limited to the U.S. but are also found in other countries. While the U.S. has a mixed record with states having varying laws throughout the country, many other countries have made greater progress on the issue. Cellphone use while driving is banned in countries including Austria, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, and U.K. Some countries even impose prison sentences on violations including Bahrain, Ireland, and city of New Delhi in India. Many countries most of whom are in Europe were quite swift in responding to the potential risks of cellphone use while driving. Germany imposed ban in February 2001, Denmark in July 1998, Brazil in January 2001, Japan in November 1999, and U.K. in December 2003 (Cellular-News). The slow response by the U.S. is surprising in this regard due to the fact that U.S. has one of the highest concentrations of cell phone users in the world and is one of the major markets for most cellphone manufacturers.

This is not to say that no one has tried to tackle the issue in the U.S. One of the hurdles in the way of nationwide initiatives is the bureaucracy. It was revealed in 2009 that the federal National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended drivers not to use cell phones, even with hands-free equipment while on the road except in emergencies, as early as 2002 and 2003. But the proposals were never made public and only came into light in 2009 due to the efforts of two public interest groups, The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen. The recommendations were not made public because the administrators feared that public officials including members of Congress would consider it to be a lobbying by the agency. It is important to note that the number of subscribers was just 170 million at the time of the proposal while the number had jumped to 270 million in 2009(Choney). The proposal would not have come to light even in 2009 if it were not for the efforts of the public interest groups.

The states should ban texting while driving because it is also morally and ethically right to do so. The reason the smoking has been banned in public places across the nation is because smoking carries social costs. Besides the smoker, it also affects others who may not themselves be smokers through second-hand smoke. Similarly, driving under influence is prohibited by the law because it puts the safety of others in danger as well. It is the responsibility of the society to protect its citizens from undue harm. Similarly, drivers who engage in texting not only put themselves in danger but also others on the road who otherwise may be responsible drivers. No one should be made to pay the price of other’s mistakes and when the law has an ability to minimize risk, it should take steps to do so. This is why states should ban testing while driving so that it can minimize the risk for everyone on the road.

Studies have proven that texting results in lower attention on the road, reduced response time, and huge losses in terms of lives and economic costs. Some states have taken steps but they vary in their coverage as well as severity of punishment. Moreover, different laws may create confusion among drivers so not only all of the states should create similar laws including ban on texting but they also make sure that the laws are similar. States should immediately enforce ban on texting if they have not already done so because of the huge social and economic costs that will continue to be incurred by the society as a result of any delay.

References

Aspen Publishers Inc. “Transportation Department Bans Texting by Truckers, Bus Drivers.” 2010.

“Ban texting while driving.” The Herald 7 January 2011.

Boyter, Jennifer Horne. “RU DRIVING?” State News (Council of State Governments) May 2009: 12-15.

Casale, Jeff. “Effort to ban texting by drivers gains traction.” Business Insurance 3 May 2010: 12-13.

Cellular-News. Countries that ban cell phones while driving. 26 November 2011 <http://www.cellular-news.com/car_bans/>.

Choney, Suzanne. Highway agency wanted total cell phone ban. 21 July 2009. 26 November 2011 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32035670/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/t/highway-agency-wanted-total-cell-phone-ban/#.TtIRLWOBq0s>.

HR Specialist: Employment Law. “‘No texting while driving,’ Obama tells federal staff, as more states outlaw texting for all drivers.” November 2009: 5.

Kirby, Paul. “At Summit, LaHood, Others Cite Progress, Challenges In Combating Driver Distractions Such as Texting.” Telecommunications Reports October 2010: 3-5.

L., Janice, Habuda Precious and Tom Precious. “Supports grows to ban deadly texting while driving.” The Buffalo News 25 April 2009.

Wilson, Fernando A. and Jim P. Stimpson. “Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008.” American Journal of Public Health November 2010: 2213-2219.

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