Forum Left, 5/26/12

Want to Text in the Car? Pull Over!

By Marianne Stanley

Really?  There’s even a question of whether texting while driving should be illegal?    To be sitting behind the wheel of 1,000-plus pounds of rolling metal is a huge responsibility.   Study after study has shown the tragic consequences of taking our eyes off the road for even a second and texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for almost four and a half of every six seconds.

And texting is not only the physical act of moving our finger or thumb across 26 keys to punch one at a time; it also requires our focus, our mental concentration to select each key and to create our message.   Our brain is thus on the keypad rather than on the road ahead and the situation around us.

We aren’t mindlessly applying lipstick without looking in a mirror, sticking a sandwich in our mouths or talking to someone; we are doing something that makes driving secondary.  Just as alcohol incapacitates a driver and puts other lives at stake, taking our eyes off the road to tap out a written message to someone incapacitates a driver and puts other lives at stake.  Neither is acceptable.  Neither should be legal.  Attempting to do both simultaneously is simply nuts.

And did someone say, “Nanny State”?  First of all, as writer Sara Robinson said recently, “It’s sexist as hell, it says that the concerns that we most identify with mothers – cleaning up your crap, minding your manners, taking responsibility for your actions – are intrusive and unwarranted infringements on your essential freedom instead of the basic adult responsibilities that are required of everybody if society is going to remain free and functional.”

And let’s face it, that’s what government is for, ensuring the smooth functioning of society.  It exists to free us, not to limit us when it works as it should.  All these people that scream about the nanny state and government overreach in areas of personal safety would probably scream for government action if a new contagious disease threatened them.

Anti-texting laws are not about “keeping you safe;” they’re about keeping those around you safe.   Just as there are no laws to prevent suicide but plenty that address and prosecute homicide, the state has a duty to go after those who knowingly and willingly put the lives of others in danger.

Every society, from tribal to the most complex, has a “government,” an “authority” of sorts that sets the rules for the well-being of all those who must live together within the structure of that community.  Trouble only occurs when corruption, pettiness, ego or greed replaces the desire to serve on the part of those who govern. Government’s job is to ensure that the freedom of the individual is balanced against the good of society.   In texting, there is absolutely no good to be gained from an individual claiming s/he has a “right” to text but great good in removing all distracted drivers from the common roadways.

Most of us by now have probably had the experience of being forced to take sudden evasive action when the driver next to us began to creep into our lane, only to look over and find that the driver is texting.   On Sunday night, our local news reported that a teen said she was texting just before causing a personal-injury accident.

Logically, any act that pulls your eyes and your focus off the road is potentially lethal and should be grounds for an automatic charge of reckless driving.  If anything should make us question the sanity of our government when it comes to texting, it is that texting while on the public roads has not been against the law from the day it began.   The roads belong to all of us, not to the irresponsible weavers and wobblers who put lives at risk.  Pulling to the side of the road won’t kill them if they want to read or send a text message.  Not pulling to the side of the road, though, just may kill us.

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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