Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's The Law, Stupid

There is a movement afoot to ban all forms of electronic communication while driving a car. Laws have been passed in many states requiring the use of hands free telephone equipment and, more recently, banning handheld phone activity such as texting. However, there are still way too many accidents causing serious injuries and even deaths as a result of people being distracted while they are driving.

Now, I am all in favor of stopping these and other equally dangerous practices. However, in my view you cannot legislate against bad behavior and expect it will stop. Unless and until people learn to act responsibly while driving, we will continue to suffer property damage, injuries and loss of life.

People are apparently unable to resist being lured into phone conversations and somehow feel compelled to send or answer a text message even though they are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. It is frightening to observe the number of people driving with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone to their ear.

Solutions providers and the auto industry have built cars with enough capability to allow a driver to use communications or entertainment systems safely. Technology has advanced to the point where you can interact with your vehicle by voice command, having it make calls, adjust the climate or find a style of music. There is no good reason to be physically handling a phone, fiddling with keys or buttons when you are in motion.

Like seat belts, you must be required to use this technology, or it won't solve the problem. But to encourage  seat belt use and discourage speeding or driving while impaired, education is absolutely key. Yes, we need big fines and strict enforcement if the law is to have any impact. However, it is far more important to teach people how dangerous it is to engage in these bad practices. Let's show them what can happen if you lose concentration while driving, even for a brief moment. Use the fines to fund a training program required as a part of the license renewal process.

We can ban all interactions with cell phones, even with hands free kits but this won't prevent drivers from being distracted by all sorts of other in car activities. Shall we also remove the CD player to prevent the temptation to fumble through a collection to load the in-dash unit? Shall we remove radios completely to avoid drivers tuning to a different station? Must we ban carrying any form of makeup or hair products in a moving vehicle? Yesterday a police officer ran his patrol car up a telephone pole because he dropped his pen on the floor and tried to retrieve it. That's it, no more pens, pencils or other writing implements allowed. Remember, prohibition failed. We will not be able to enact a ban on every conceivable source of driver distraction. Rather, we must find ways to make people take driving a motor vehicle more seriously.

Perhaps the only law we really need is the one that makes it a crime to be careless or irresponsible.

Captain Joe

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