Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Texting and going don't mix

I’m catching up on some news reading that I hadn’t gotten to for several days, and I find a couple of related items that just made me smack myself in the head in a gesture reminiscent of the old “I could have had a V8!” adverts:

  1. California Bans Texting by Operators of Trains
  2. As Text Messages Fly, Danger Lurks

The first item tells us that in the aftermath of a horrible train wreck that killed 25 people and that appears to have been caused (they’re not certain yet) by the engineer’s sending text messages when he should have been driving the train, the state of California has “temporarily banned the use of all cellular devices by anyone at the controls of a moving train.”

To which I say, “Temporarily?” WTF?

More and more states are forbidding drivers to use their hands to futz with their mobile phones while they’re driving cars, and there’s even a question about banning this stuff when one is driving a train?

Let’s look at this carefully:

  1. The engineers of trains aren’t just sitting at the controls of vehicles for their own use: they are being paid for it. They’re being paid to do a job. They need to do that job. Using mobile phones, for any purpose, is not part of that job.
  2. The engineers of trains arent just carting themselves around. They’re responsible for the lives and safety of hundreds of people and millions of dollars of property that doesn’t belong to them. They have a responsibility to pay attention!

The second item gives us the most profound and unexpected bit of rocket science we’ve seen in... in... well, probably ever: that doing something that takes your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing is... distracting:

Texting while driving, or simply while crossing the street, is increasingly recognized as hazardous. “Texting automatically removes 10 I.Q. points,” one expert said.

“10 I.Q. points”? What’s that about? No, no, it’s far worse than that. It’s not that it makes you less intelligent; it’s that it takes your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing. A dog can cross the street and avoid the cars, because it’s paying attention. A human with two PhDs and an I.Q. of 150 can walk out in front of a Chevy Suburban because she’s paying more attention to her text messages than to the traffic.

The fact is, though, that people are walking out in front of cars, that they’re driving their cars while trying to do the two-thumb dance, that they’re piloting commuter trains and not watching the signals.

Though there are no official casualty statistics, there is much anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise.

I’m reminded of an old The Far Side cartoon, where a cat is pouncing on a cluster of birds. The birds are all flying away to safety, except for the one who’s listening to his Walkman.

Pay attention!


Jim Fenton said...

I put the emphasis on a different word:

“temporarily banned the use of all cellular devices by anyone at the controls of a moving train.”

In other words, they're free to use their GameBoy, iPod Touch (even with the WiFi turned on)...

Barry Leiba said...

Yow! Good point.

Which is why I say that we should stop banning specific things, and instead make it generally illegal to do things that distract you from driving, while you're driving. And that'd include yelling at the kids in the back seat.

Lisa Simeone said...

It'll never happen. Americans are too obsessed with their "right" to behave like idiots, danger be damned. I only wish it was these people who paid the price of their stupidity, but it rarely is. It's the rest of us. But life is ever thus.

(And, ahem, I don't even own a cellphone. What a pretentious, self-aggrandizing little gadget.)