An accident looking for a place to happen

Published 10:51 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Technology has spawned a me-now, me-always social media blizzard. For good or bad, a steady drumbeat calls us to smartphones, iPods, iPads, GPS devices, PDAs, pagers, online ordering, online discounts, Facebook, Google searches, Twittering and so on. Look around; we’re enveloped in a web-based society effortlessly accessing who-what-where-when-why via mobile technologies. Attention spans are fractured.

But this stay-in-touch anywhere/anytime scenario presents some pretty extreme options. Take driving and texting; marching our thumbs across a tiny keyboard while driving potentially alters the social media blizzard into a whiteout.

In addition to adjusting radios, lighting cigarettes, sipping coffee or just coughing, yawning and sneezing, many now practice the mother of all distractions, “drexting.”

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The U.S. Department of Transportation says that in 2009, nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half million injuries resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver and that overall, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2009. That’s bad enough, but upping the ante, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today estimates that the risk of a crash for a driver who is texting is more than 23 times higher than an undistracted driver.

Accordingly, in my shop, we have a zero-tolerance policy on texting or emailing while driving. That is, no driver shall engage in texting while driving. Period. To do otherwise and be discovered is immediate grounds for dismissal. There are exceptions. Emergencies like communicating with police, ambulance or fire departments are obvious ones, but even then, as much as possible, we encourage our technicians to get to the side of the road and pull to a safe stop before texting or emailing.

Around the areas we service in Virginia, in Washington, D.C., in Maryland, and in North Carolina, there are statutes in place banning texting while driving. And in Philadelphia, which we now also call home, I’m delighted to report Pennsylvania Governor Corbett has recently signed into law legislation that will soon make that state the 35th to ban texting while driving.

I hope the remaining 15 states will enact similar safety reforms. If we can have laws regarding seatbelts and headlight adjustments and emission standards and fuel efficiencies, surely we can enact uniformity across all 50 states for safety mandates against this most hazardous driver distraction.

But if my words here haven’t fired you up enough, if you still need a nudge to speak to your family and friends about why a 4,000-plus pound moving object is not the appropriate platform to text from, go to YouTube and enter “texting while driving.” Watch a few of the horror stories. Then please act.

Basim Mansour is president of Michael and Son Services, founded in 1976. Visit his website at