Texting doesn't cause car accidents, I do

Text messaging while operating a vehicle can -- and in many cases does -- lead to accidents

Let's be honest. Few people will deny that keeping your eyes on the road is a key part of driving safely. As a trolley collision in Boston showed us on Friday, text messaging while operating a vehicle can -- and in many cases does -- lead to accidents.

According to a 2006 study by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) 80 percent of crashes are directly linked to driver inattention. Cell phone use topped the list of distractions in their study of 100 cars that lasted for more than a year.

Increases in cell-phone-related accidents has made wireless bans a hot issue that many state governments are grappling with.

Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are discussing bills to ban text messaging in legislative sessions this year.

I understand their concern for safety. I'm not one to dispute that texting behind the wheel is a bad choice, but I think there is more to the issue that isn't being discussed everywhere.

Texting, or using your cell phone for that matter, is just like any one of thousands of distractions that a driver can face on the road.

I've been in rush hour traffic next to a woman looking into a handheld mirror while she applied mascara. I've seen drivers turn around and reach into the back seat to scold their children on the highway. I've seen someone balance their checkbook at a red light. The list goes on and on.

Cell phones typically get the blame because a far greater number of people spent a much larger amount of time using their phones than applying makeup or turning around to reach into the back seat. But it doesn't make sense that someone can be pulled over and fined for looking down at a phone for a few seconds while other people get off the hook for things that are far worse but less common.

I think states such as Washington got it right; texting should be a secondary offense that one can be fined for in addition to another traffic violation. A blanket law isn't going to do much more than increase revenue for the police department and make a large percentage of the population break the law on a daily basis.

Most people in Washington are ignoring the no texting law that went into effect last June, even law enforcement.

As a 22 year-old who has had a cell phone nearly as long as I have been driving I don't see the problem going away by law alone.

Cell phones are a part of our everyday lives and it isn't easy to beat the addiction.

I don't text when I drive, but that doesn't mean I won't glance at my phone or iPod on occasion. Like many people my age, I'm used to having electronics compete for my attention. It is just another case of something with a practical use causing problems when used impractically.

There is good news, though. For those of you who can't break your SMS habit while driving, you can still seek refuge in a few states. Iowa and North and South Dakota all rejected state legislation that proposed text messaging bans earlier this year.

To view a complete map of texting and cell laws visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

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Paul Suarez

PC World (US online)
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