Lawful or not, distracted driving is a menace

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Perhaps it’s a reflection on a modern society that’s caught up in a craze of multi-tasking. Few are the places or situations anymore where one can’t see someone checking email, surfing the Web or sending text messages on their mobile phones or other wireless devices. It wasn’t all that long ago that it was considered rude to interrupt an in-the-flesh conversation to answer a telephone. Today, though, it’s common to see handheld wireless devices in use during meetings, at restaurants and even in church.

While the etiquette of such communications devices remains a point of conflict, especially between younger and older generations, there is one situation in which the use of such devices can cause a real danger to society: by the operators of moving vehicles.

Virginia Tech completed a recent study showing that operators of large trucks are 23 times more likely to get in an accident if they are texting on the road. All drivers, the study found, are six times more likely to have an accident while they are dialing a telephone or reaching for their mobile phones or iPods.

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Anyone who has ever been in a vehicular crash can attest to the fact that things go wrong far more quickly than most drivers can react. Everything is fine one moment, and the next moment, there is the sound of crunching metal and breaking glass.

Even attentive drivers are at the mercy of those in other vehicles around them. Distracted drivers can be a menace to everyone on the road.

The Obama administration is concerned enough about the situation that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is in the midst of a two-day summit involving researchers, lawmakers, safety advocates and auto makers. The group is charged with finding ways to reduce or eliminate distracted driving, especially by those who think it’s safe to send and receive text messages while behind the wheel.

Congress is considering passing legislation that would require states to pass laws against texting while driving or face losing a portion of their federal road funding. There’s little evidence that such laws work, as anyone driving in Virginia since such a law went into effect in July can attest.

Since texting is largely a means of communication preferred by the younger generation, it falls to parents to teach their children about the dangers of all kinds of distracted driving. And for those who are old enough to know better, the answer is to just stop.

You may never know the accidents you’ll avoid by waiting to send that text or change that CD. But we’ll all be thankful that you did so.