Monday, August 31, 2009


Driven to distraction: aware of the risks?

A month ago, I talked about a New York Times article about distracted driving. And last year I discussed the issue of sending text messages when you’re supposed to be paying attention to what’s around you.

This weekend, the New York Times presented another example: a 19-year-old in Utah who was texting while driving, crashed into another car, and killed two. The incident resulted in a new Utah state law that makes driving and sending text messages at the same time... illegal.

That’s fine — it certainly should be — but why does texting need to be called out explicitly? Here’s why:

Still, county prosecutors thought they were unable to charge Mr. Shaw with something other than “left of center.” For instance, if they wanted to prove Mr. Shaw guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, they would need to show he knew of the dangers or should have known of the dangers of texting while driving.
That would seem to be easy to show, don’t you think? Everyone knows texting while driving is dangerous, and you shouldn’t do it. Everyone knows. Don’t they?
Prosecutors and judges in other states already have the latitude to use more general reckless-driving laws to penalize multitasking drivers who cause injury and death. In California, for instance, where texting while driving is banned but the only deterrent is a $20 fine, a driver in April received a six-year prison sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter when, speeding and texting, she slammed into a line of cars waiting at a construction zone, killing another driver.

But if those prosecutors want to charge a texting driver with recklessness, they must prove the driver knew of the risks before sending texts from behind the wheel.

Come on! This is common sense, people; no one should have to prove anything. We just need to accept that anything that takes your attention away from driving is dangerous, and that everyone is presumed to know that. Teach this to people in diving class, put it on the driver’s license exam, and make it a condition of being allowed to drive that you know that. No one should have to prove whether you understood that it’s a hazard to, while you’re driving, read the newspaper, play a guitar, have your (fairly large) dog in your lap, shave, or do your eyelashes — all of which I’ve seen on the road at 50 miles per hour and above.

And no one should have to question whether you were away that typing on a minuscule keyboard while driving could get you and others killed.

More broadly, Mr. Swink said, drivers in Utah are now on notice that texting while driving is inherently reckless. And as drivers across the nation become more aware of that notion, he said, judges and prosecutors will feel more comfortable asking for big penalties. He said the Shaw case helped to pave the way.

Good on you, Utah. But this just needs to be standard procedure: everyone needs to be on notice, in and out of Utah.

No comments: