On Tuesday, Maine officials, including the governor, rolled out a brand new initiative aimed at preventing drivers from texting on their phones while driving. Teaming up with three trucking firms, Maine is placing messages on 16 commercial vehicles traveling the state’s roadways, warning drivers of the dangers of texting while driving. They’ll be sporting messages like, “one text or call could wreck it all.”
I’ll give Mr. LePage the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t just a cheap election year gimmick that signifies very little. According to one of the reports I read, LePage, who hasn’t had to drive since being sworn in as Maine’s 74th governor in 2011, has been sitting back and observing all manner of behaviors among fellow Mainers while traveling up and down the state’s highways and byways.
“It’s amazing the things you see,” LePage said at a news conference outside the Department of Public Safety building on Commerce Drive. “We need to tell our drivers to be safer.”
Here’s the thing—that anti-texting message has been broadcast before, in a variety of different packages. Meanwhile, drivers continue to text and drive, especially younger drivers—they know the dangers, yet they still persist in rolling the dice, assuming that they can multitask without consequences.
Studies like this one conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2013 support what Maine’s governor is highlighting—using a cell phone to text — that includes composing, sending, and reading a message or email and surfing the Web — while behind the wheel increases the risk that those drivers are twice as likely to crash, or almost crash, as those who are focused on the road. According to another study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2013, nearly one-third of American adults had e-mailed or texted on their phones while driving at least once during the previous month.
In light of these studies, we all know that we shouldn’t text and drive, and yet we do. That urge—to check our e-mail, glance at Facebook, or see who just texted us—can be as just as intense when we’re standing in line or at dinner with our families as it is when we’re driving a car. But it’s only in a car that resisting it becomes a matter of life and death. In order to fight the problem, we need to stop thinking we can simply tell people to stop—that overlooks how that urge works on us. Punishment won’t stop it, either.
Given that the same technological capacity that gave us smartphones that entice us and distract, could also employ the means to make using a phone in a car impossible, shifts the responsibility back to phone providers. I can hear people whining about the need to have a phone for safety purposes. Fine—create a “panic switch,” which all phones already have.
I’ve often thought that automakers and cell phone companies, along with service providers could partner and create phones that were limited within the confines of an automobile. In essence, the creation of text-free dead zones. If people can’t police themselves—which they can’t—then, take the temptation and capacity away from them while in an automobile.
Rolling billboards, punishment, and telling people that they shouldn’t text and drive will do nothing to curb usage, and accidents associated with distracted driving will continue to be the norm.