The more people text and drive, the more they make the news. A recent one was a woman in the U.S. who was killed when she crossed the median and hit a pickup truck.
According to reports, she’d been shooting photos of herself and posting them on Facebook. It was an update about a song she’d heard that apparently took too much of her attention away from the road.
That’s a really dumb way to die.
Yes, that’s cold. But so far, what we’ve been doing—throwing out statistics and driving simulation test results, and handing out fines that amount to pocket change in many jurisdictions—isn’t working.
When it comes to the fines, people text with impunity, figuring they won’t get caught. But the real story is how so many of them react to the statistics. Sure, you can tell them that some 30 percent of all crashes involve driver distraction, and that text messaging makes you 23 percent more likely to crash or come close than someone who isn’t using the phone.
They don’t care. They can text, check updates, and send tweets with the phone in one hand, and a coffee in the other. They’ve been multi-tasking all their lives. They’re experts at it. The rules, the statistics, the fines, and the crashes are all on other people who aren’t as good at it.
Some automakers are even cashing in on the trend, offering systems that transfer voice messages to text, or let drivers handle Facebook and Twitter feeds through the car’s infotainment system.
We wouldn’t accept cars that let you punch in the number of drinks you had at dinner and then calculate if they think you might be okay to drive. We might have 40 years ago, when drunk driving was just considered something people did, to the point that it was often the focus in comedy routines. People still get behind the wheel with too much in them, but the numbers have dropped dramatically, thanks to such things as stiff fines and, very importantly, social disapproval.
That’s what it’s going to take to get people to put down the phones and concentrate on driving. I’ve already seen it creep into a few venues: one of those forensic detective shows recently had a character examining a body and remarking that texting and driving was to blame. Popular culture needs to get on board.
It takes all of us. It takes telling the driver to put down the phone. It takes telling someone you’re hanging up now—call me back when you’re parked. And it takes battling distracted driving not just with statistics, but with scorn. When someone crashes and dies because he or she was playing with a phone, it isn’t a shame, or a tragedy, or a life snatched too soon. As with getting behind the wheel when you’re loaded, it’s just a really stupid way to die.