Attacking tech

February 25, 2010

I’m glad to see that we’re coming to a consensus about texting and driving. Most people these days recognize that it’s a dangerous activity — one that should be avoided at all costs. As my friend at aplaceforthoughts.com writes, Oprah is using her considerable influence to raise awareness, and many states are enacting laws to keep people from texting in the car.

Though I’m glad to see so many doing their part to stop this dangerous activity, it bugs me that texting has become such a target while many other dangerous activities are still legal behind the wheel, including eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting the radio, putting on makeup and reading. Yes, reading.

Just about everything on that list has been causing accidents since the dawn of the automobile age, and yet none of them has been outlawed. In fact, most of us are guilty of at least a few of them. Some of us are guilty of them every day. Personally, I drink coffee on the way to the office every day. I fiddle with the radio. I’ve even been known to scarf a burger or a burrito while barreling down the road.

Ever try eating a burrito in the car? Bad idea. Especially when the thing bursts all over your good shirt.

Studies have shown that eating and drinking hot beverages are more dangerous than talking on a cell phone or sending text messages. So why are we allowed to eat in the car? Why is every automobile equipped with a radio? Why are there NO warnings on car stereo systems that adjusting them while driving is hazardous?

The reason is simple: We all do these things. And it’s easier for lawmakers — many of whom are not particularly tech savvy — to condemn something they don’t understand, rather than look at the bigger picture.

And the bigger picture means we need a real “distracted driver” law — a broad law that penalizes drivers for any distracting behavior they take part in while driving. And that means everything.

The law wouldn’t have to prohibit a person from eating, drinking, or even talking on a cell phone. But in the case of an accident, the driver would be ticketed and their insurance would take a hit when it was found they were distracted.

When I worked as a crime reporter, I saw way more accidents caused by people fiddling with the radio or yelling at their kids than when people were talking on cell phones. To be fair, cell phones were a lot more rare in those days, but it doesn’t change the fact that distracted drivers have always been a danger on the roads.

Let’s all pledge to stop texting while driving. But if we’re going to make laws, let’s make sure we’re going after the behavior, not the technology.