Debate Forum Right 10/06/10

Excellent Guess. Wrong, But Excellent

By Benjamin Tomkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I was on a bulletin board recently where someone actually posted this comment in reference to their texting while

driving habit:

“I’m constantly texting while driving and I havent had an accident yet.”

Wow. Two things. 1. Apparently all that texting has made you forget how to use an apostrophe. Thank you, texting, for making us dumber. 2. If your attitude towards personal risk assessment is “I haven(’)t died yet,” you can rest assured that you will be remedying that state of affairs very, very soon, because you are a complete idiot. That’s why I hate little maxims like “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (Big toothy grin.) What complete crap. I don’t know about you, but my life experience has taught me that anything that doesn’t kill you will burn you over 90 percent of your body and put you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. That’s why I don’t do a lot of stuff. But I suppose they have to give a Darwin Award to somebody, right? Why not you?

Listen, I’ve seen the statistics about how many accidents are caused by texting and the number of seconds your eyes are off the road when you text. I get it. I completely understand why the legislature was compelled to act and ban texting while driving. It’s natural to see people hurting themselves and others and want to stop that from happening. However, I think if the legislature would have taken a second to look around at places like Denver where texting bans are already in place, they might have realized that banning texting and driving is pointless because it’s virtually impossible to enforce.

See, the whole point of making something illegal is to create a deterrent for people engaging in the activity. For instance, if you get caught speeding you get a ticket. You can’t stop everyone from doing it, but you can make them think twice because they have to pay a fine, and that’s a start. However, the difference between texting and speeding is that there is no radar gun for texting. It’s up to the judgment of the officer to decide who’s texting and who’s legally watching the entire fourth season of Dexter. Which I probably am. But as you can imagine, drawing this distinction at 70 mph is somewhat problematic. Well, as it turns out, the city of Denver has been running this little texting ban experiment for about a year, and I called a station and asked an officer what the criteria for writing a texting ticket are.

The police officer I spoke to said that he’d never written a ticket for texting and didn’t know of anyone who had. When I asked him why, he told me that, oddly enough, it’s because it’s almost impossible to tell what someone is doing with a phone at any given time. So I asked him what his personal criteria are for writing a ticket for texting, and he said would only do so if they were doing something profoundly stupid like “texting while sitting at a red light next in the car next to me.”

At this point he directed me to the records secretary for the Denver police from whom I could get the actual number of tickets written for the city. So I called her up, and she laughed and said that they didn’t have exact figures because the data hadn’t been compiled yet, but she assured me that the number of tickets written was
ridiculously low. I asked her why this was the case and she said, and I’m quoting her independently of that other police officer, that in order to get a ticket for texting you’d have to be doing something profoundly stupid like “texting while sitting at a red light next to a police officer.”


That law is not effective, so it desperately begs the question, if a law can’t practically be enforced, why would you pass it? It’s not enough to write a law simply to address a problem. A good law must improve society AND be functional. In other words, if you enact a law that police officers have no hope of enforcing, you haven’t really changed the practical outcome of the situation. And as much as I hate to say this, and as much as I like doing it myself, I think the only realistic way to ban text messaging effectively is to do what California did and ban using your cell phone in the car. That’s eminently enforceable, because it requires zero interpretation to write that ticket. If the phone’s up to your ear, you’re guilty. Yes, that solution is unpopular, but if you are really committed to solving the texting problem that’s about the only viable solution, I’m afraid.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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