Citing an alleged rise in automobile accidents, 16 states–including Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York–are considering legislation to ban text messaging, or “texting,” while driving.
The data supporting the allegations stem mostly from a study conducted by Nationwide Insurance, which estimates the number of texting-related accidents is increasing. An estimated 20 percent of U.S. drivers send text messages while behind the wheel, and 66 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds text when driving alone, according to the study.
Daniel Ballon, Ph.D., a fellow in technology at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, California, says texting-ban legislation is unneeded and superfluous to existing law.
“[L]awmakers should focus on keeping reckless drivers off the road, rather than designing mandates for rapidly evolving technologies,” Ballon said.
“In California, it is already illegal to drive with ‘willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,’” Ballon continued. “This includes someone with a cell phone propped to his ear just as it includes someone shaving, applying makeup, or practicing his juggling routine.
“Specific technology mandates become obsolete before they are passed, and take away the ability of patrol officers to exercise common sense,” Ballon said.
The proposed laws vary in form if not intent.
“Some laws only ban texting with teen drivers,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). “Only three states, Washington, New Jersey, and Minnesota, ban it altogether for all drivers.”
According to GHSA, persons employed in some professions are allowed to text while driving, in states such as Connecticut and Washington, DC. Other states ban it only in a few jurisdictions, and not a single state bans both texting and talking on a cell phone. A Utah driver, for example, must be using a cell phone with another offense, such as speeding, for it to count as a violation.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Illinois resident Jason Holford, who admits he cancelled his own cell phone plan because it was too distracting from daily life. “Texting, talking. Why should someone be on the phone while driving at all? We don’t actually know how many accidents were caused by cell phone usage because we don’t know what was happening at the time of every car crash. It has to be higher than we think.”
Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.