Debate Forum Left 10/06/10

Text Driving: Unnecessary And Fatal

By Rana Odeh

Rana Odeh

Just over two years ago, a Metrolink commuter train collided head on with a Union Pacific freight locomotive in Southern California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others. What was the cause behind the worst train accident in the U.S. since the early 1990s? Texting. The engineer of the train identified as Robert Sanchez, 46, was text messaging while he completely ignored trackside signals and ran a red light. Cell phone records show Sanchez sent a text message and received one less than 20 seconds before the collision.

This fatal tragedy led to a ban on cell phone use for all drivers of trains, busses and trucks while on duty. Unfortunately this accident did not completely ban the use of cell phones for the average driver, but something needs to be done as distracted driving accidents escalate. While less than 20 states currently have laws banning text messaging while driving, there is finally legislation on the federal level that is being considered to prohibit any driver from text messaging while operating a vehicle. If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation would set the minimum standards for compliance, and states that do not enact text-banning laws within two years of the bill’s passage could lose 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

What kind of human being would be against the idea of banning text messaging while driving? Why would anybody argue against a law that would make our roads safer and make parents, siblings, kids, grandparents, spouses etc. feel more comfortable when they know their loved ones are behind the wheel? Beside the point that text messaging is completely unnecessary in general, it is extremely selfish to attempt to type on a tiny keyboard while driving. Ask any mother or father of a victim that was killed behind the wheel due to the frolicking of another driver; I’m sure they would not understand why there is even debate about passing legislation against text-driving. In 2009, 5,474 deaths were connected to cell phone distractions in the U.S. along with 448,000 injuries. Any death or injury related to cell phone use is one too many, let alone nearly half a million per year.

Those who complain that this type of ban would be unenforceable are not considering the value of life. Trying to enforce the law or creating a ban will not hurt anybody or take away anybody’s rights. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and the federal government has every right to set standards and guidelines as to what we can and cannot do while we share the road with thousands of other drivers. A ban on text messaging while driving can at least help reduce the risk and chances of accidents related to cell phone use.

People do not realize that it is not necessarily the act of looking at the phone or typing that distracts the driver and causes accidents, rather it is in the distraction of the mind. Thinking about other things, trying to focus, considering what to type, all take a driver’s mind off the road, their safety, and the safety of others. It is common sense and courtesy to be cautious while driving. If not for your own safety, have some respect and humanity and spare others from your childish activities.

As I mentioned in an article in February about the introduction of a high speed railway (“High Speed Recovery for Ohio”), distracted driving fatalities and injuries are yet another reason we should develop a better transportation system. It is easier to enforce a ban on cell phone use for drivers of mass transportation vehicles, now that the law is tight for train drivers and bus drivers since the horrific accident in 2008. The average driver should have the option to take a bus or a train, especially if he/she likes to play around in a moving vehicle. It is not just about how much faster you could get from point A to point B in a train, but how much safer it would be for America’s drivers and for our environment. You could do all the text messaging or makeup art that you want in a train, but when you get behind the wheel, please do not be so selfish, inconsiderate and childish. Just remember that when you are driving, the world does not revolve around you, and neither do other drivers.

The day the bill passes will be a victory for the families of victims who were killed due to distracted driving, and more specifically, text-driving. The fact that the bill would threaten to take away federal highway funds for states that do not enact the bill would give them great incentive to enforce the bill, but it would be nice if the safety of drivers was considered enough incentive.

Rana Odeh is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in English and philosophy. Her research and writings focus on issues of race, class and gender. She can be reached at

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