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A Driving Problem, Not a Texting Problem

I’ve always thought that most people really do not like to drive, or at least drive all that much. Why would they otherwise be so constantly engaged in non-driving activities?

Clive Thompson makes this point in an interesting new column at Wired.

Texting while driving is, in essence, a wake-up call to America. It illustrates our real, and bigger, predicament: The country is currently better suited to cars than to communication. This is completely bonkers.

Thompson has an idea for a technological solution to the problem:

So what can we do? We should change our focus to the other side of the equation and curtail not the texting but the driving. This may sound a bit facetious, but I’m serious. When we worry about driving and texting, we assume that the most important thing the person is doing is piloting the car. But what if the most important thing they’re doing is texting? How do we free them up so they can text without needing to worry about driving?

The answer, of course, is public transit. In many parts of the world where texting has become ingrained in daily life — like Japan and Europe — public transit is so plentiful that there hasn’t been a major texting-while-driving crisis. You don’t endanger anyone’s life while quietly tapping out messages during your train ride to work in Tokyo or Berlin.

I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say, for the current crop of young drivers, that texting — staying in electronic touch — is far more important than the act of driving. They also protest that they are uniquely well adapted to “handle” such behavior, overlooking the inconvenient fact that all the major studies of texting/cell-phone distraction have been conducted on college students, not at retirement homes.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 8:55 am and is filed under Commuting, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “A Driving Problem, Not a Texting Problem”

  1. Andrew L Says:

    Texting while walking is a hazard too. You live in NYC – just walk along a sidewalk in Manhattan.

  2. Bob Says:

    Last Saturday I was in a parking lot, getting stuff from the back seat of our old Volvo. The driver of a Toyota Sequoia next to me backed out, never looking to his left, or in front of him. He also didn’t even notice that his bumper bent the door of our Volvo around my leg, and only noticed this when my wife ran yelling at his vehicle. He never looked. His passengers never looked. He never felt the impact. He didn’t notice the resistance. I don’t think he was texting, I think he just wasn’t taking his responsibility for driving seriously.

  3. wes kirkman Says:

    Mer…the worst that happens is you bonk your head on a light pole. You texting while walking is a danger to you. You texting while driving is a danger to everyone else. Big difference.

  4. TomL Says:

    People multitask because they are so pressed for time, to accomplish more things in the same amount of time.

    So take away a chunk of their free time when they are caught driving while using a cellphone or texting. In addition to a nomimal monetary fine (less than $100), make them spend at least 8 hours doing community service.

    A full day picking up trash, sweeping streets or other mindless labor will cause people to think twice before using their personal electronic devices and trying to pilot a 3,000 lb on the highway.

  5. Nate A Says:

    I wish they would make texting while driving a primary offense in VA. Currently it’s a secondary offense, which I guess I should be glad that at least it’s against the law! I’m a police officer, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to right someone a ticket for it. Not only do you have to prove they were texting and not dialing a phone number, you have to have another reason to stop them. Which makes enforcement of this law virtually impossible.

  6. Yuri Artibise Says:

    My solution for those who want to text while on the move, is to leave the keys at home and pick up a transit pass.

  7. Andy Says:

    Nate, why do you want this to be a primary offense? That is ridiculous. As a law enforcement officer, you need to quit worrying about things that MIGHT cause trouble, and instead worry about things that DO cause trouble. Someone driving incompetently, texting or not, should be stopped and ticketed. Someone driving competently, texting or not, should be left alone. You shouldn’t ever make a stop if you couldn’t make that same stop if the person had all tinted windows so that you couldn’t observe any irrelevant behavior internal to the vehicle.

  8. Josh R Says:

    Andy, anyone who is driving and texting is not driving competently, period, full stop, end of sentence. The driver’s attention is divided and they only have one hand on the wheel for extended periods of time, neither of which is a good thing for driving safety.

    The problem here is the differing definition of “Competent driving” Being able to keep your car in the same lane while going in a straight line is not “Competent” its a bare minimum level of skill expected of a student driver. What defines competent driving is your situational awareness and ability to react quickly to changing conditions. Somebody may be pretty good at keeping his car between the lines while texting, but I absolutely guarantee that if something happens ahead of him that requires action on his part, he will react more slowly and less competently then someone who has both hands on the wheel and is watching the road.

    Texting while driving should absolutely be a primary offense, because while texting YOU ARE NOT DRIVING. You are at best keeping your ton of metal & plastic between the lines, and that’s not good enough.

  9. njkayaker Says:

    Andy@7 “As a law enforcement officer, you need to quit worrying about things that MIGHT cause trouble, and instead worry about things that DO cause trouble”
    ?? There is at least one study that shows texting is more distracting that being drunk. Does that mean drunk driving should be legal? Anyway, the point is to avoid trouble (ie, collisions) before it occurs.

  10. aaron Says:

    We could also focus on mismanagement of traffic. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that most texting and cell phone use is induced by inadequate traffic flow.

  11. Vagabondblogger Says:

    I have a problem with people who have one hand to the ear talking on their mobiles, so texting while driving makes me nuts. Both take away your attention from the road. They should be offenses equal to driving while drunk or “under the influence”. But let me add this, most people who do those things to begin with, are probably bad drivers (or extremely rude people), who shouldn’t have a drivers license to begin with. I’m also in favor of testing older folks. I can’t say how many times I’ve almost been run down (as a pedestrian), or into (as a driver), by someone who is either not with it, or just doesn’t give a damn.

  12. froggyprager Says:

    I agree, the problem is not drunk driving, texting while driving, or talking on the phone while driving but that we drive too much. Perhaps if we put so many rules on driving, more people will think twice before taking a job, buying a house that requires lots of driving and consider a place there they can walk, bike, bus, etc. so they can have more time to safely do the things they want to do. Given the option I think most people would prefer to drive much less.

  13. Jason S. Says:

    What happens then? More ped crashes? I don’t know, its pretty hard to predict the unintended consequences of rules and regulations.

    The amount of time in a day has not changed. How we use that time has. What’s more important, telling your BFF that Jenny just looked at you funny, or being able to travel to your job…to support your family?

    Are we so self-centered that we can’t take a break from being stimulated for a few minutes so we can safely drive somewhere. The answer appears to be “Yes”. Humankind has done a pretty good job adapting to this planet. We rarely have to worry about simply surviving anymore so we have turned our attention in all different directions. I don’t think you can simply regulate this problem away because it appears to be only a symptom, or condition, of a larger topic. My overall point is that there are trade-offs. Do you want an extremely safe transportation system, or a pretty safe one and some sense of individualism and freedom. We actually do have a pretty safe system. Sure we can regulate it further, put a traffic cop and a firing squad at every mile marker, and execute everyone that doesn’t appear to be attentive…but who wants that kind of society, not me. We must continue to do what we can to reduce risks, but we need to have priorities and take the good along with the bad.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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