Texting Bans, Can They Work?

Distracted Driving is the biggest buzzword of the automotive world and rightfully so.  The influx of technology and information available to drivers offers an almost infinite number of reasons to take your eyes off the road and that is the opposite of what any of us want.  To that end many states have enacted a hands-free requirement for cell phone use with varying levels of of success. In addition to these hands-free laws there has been a huge push for all out bans of texting while driving.  From Ray La Hood to Oprah there are national campaigns to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving as well as encourage states to establish laws banning the use of text messaging while driving.

Now, I totally  understand the value of educating drivers, particularly young drivers, of the dangers of distracted driving, but what I don’t understand is the ban on texting.  I’m not saying people should text while they drive, but I am saying the laws banning texting don’t make any sense to me.  They seem to be totally unenforceable.  Smartphones, navigation systems, infotainment systems, etc are all potentially significant distractions and are all totally legal to use while driving.  Since an iPod, Blackberry and countless other mobile devices have merged to become our phone, our music and our GPS how can a police officer possibly tell a legitimate difference between someone using these features on the same device?  Nobody I’ve talked to has been able to give me a good answer…

This NHTSA  study posted on distraction.gov does discuss the effectiveness of education and enforcement campaigns citing >55% drops in cell phone use and >65% in texting use in Hartford and Syracuse.  In Hartford apparently they used spotters to identify violators then radio ahead to other officers to make the stop and write a ticket.  I don’t understand how a spotter can know a driver wasn’t just dialing their phone (specifically allowed in California in-spite of the ban, not sure about Connecticut).

I get that having the laws can be a deterrent, but is that all they are? For better or worse I don’t really know anyone that doesn’t text while driving (any exceptions are few and far between) and none have been deterred by a no-texting law. More punitive punishments would obviously increase the deterrence factor, but not only does it not make sense to fine someone $1000 for texting, you can’t enforce the law in the first place.

More education would be nice, but in the end, I believe that most people will continue to access more and more information while in the vehicle.  The only real solution is to find safer ways to deliver the services.  The answer has to be better (more) technology not less.  Voice controls, haptic feedback, and even heads-up displays will have to lead the way more efficient interactions with a drivers surroundings while adaptive cruise control, smart cars and lane departure alerts reduce the demand on the driver.  All, hopefully, leading to a safer driving future.

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