Overstating the Texting While Driving Case

According to one study, driving distracted kills 5,500 people in car and truck accidents every year in this country. Don’t let the title of this blog fool you. It is beyond dispute that texting while driving is a growing part of this problem. The Baltimore Sun reports that 25% of teenaged drivers admit to texting while driving a car, and almost half say they’ve been in cars with someone who sent text messages. But kids are not the only problem. Adults that rolled their eyes at texting just a few years ago are now textaholics who read and write text messages while driving. The phenomenon is causing serious injuries and deaths on our nation’s highway. And the perpetrators are not degenerate criminals but people just like you.

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This all makes sense. The anti-texting advocates have me. But this is where they lose me: “Texting and driving is worse than drinking and driving.”

First, the statement is ridiculously misleading. Maybe, if some studies are true, you can better avoid an accident with a .08 blood level than you can in the middle of a text message. But you are drunk the whole time you are driving, not for an instant of receiving or sending a text message. So I’d rather be on the other side of a double yellow line of someone who sent a few texts than someone who is drunk any day.

But my larger criticism is the message the “worse than drunk driving” slogan sends. It is like we can’t say Heidi Klum is pretty without saying she is more attractive than Gisele Bundchen or complementing LeBron James without pointing out what he can do that Michael Jordan couldn’t.

With supermodels and basketball players, this is a harmless weakness of ours. But to elevate the risks of texting, some well meaning car safety advocates are indvertently but dangerously minimizing the risks of drunk driving.

Let’s face it, most of us know otherwise good people who occasionally drink and drive. But the number of people on our list that fall into that category has dropped in the last 5 years. Hasn’t it? The reason is the social stigma attached to drinking and driving has increased. No one wants those judgmental looks when they walk out of the party or bar.

But for a large number of people, avoiding drinking and driving is incredibly inconvenient and the social stigma is the only thing holding them back. When you equate texting while driving to drinking and driving, you knock that social stigma back a dangerous peg.

Maybe not so coincidentally, deaths from alcohol-related traffic accidents in Maryland jumped 12 percent from 2008 to 2009, from 145 to 162. This is Maryland’s first rise in the number of drunk driving deaths since 2006.

We need to sound the alarm on texting while driving and drinking and driving. There are so many alarms going off for so many different things, it is hard for important alarms to get the attention they deserve. But if your goal is to save lives, don’t sound the texting alarm by minimizing another very important alarm. So in case there is any ambiguity about that alarm, let’s restate the facts: 162 people died last year in Maryland drunk driving accidents.

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  • Thanks for your excellent post!

    Last yearI happened to be beside a driver who texted her way down Martin Luther King Blvd. I kept looking over thinking I was seeing things!

    This was not some teen but a woman who appeared to be in her 30’s. It’s a wonder we both didn’t run into someone! There’s no excuse for behavior like this. But, there’s even less excuse for drinking and driving and it’s danger shouldn’t be minimized just to point out the dangers of texting while driving. Both can kill.

  • I haven’t kept tabs on exact numbers but it seems to me there are more drivers flying over the double yellow were no alcohol was involved then when there is alcohol.

    I think more to the point is driving a living room on wheels and all the distractions that are available people are not sitting up and paying full attention to driving a deadly weapon.

    It’s not just texting, it’s more like being a passive observer then an active participant in the act of driving. Sure there may be a time and place to safely text but failing to realize a curvy road with lots of oncoming traffic isn’t one of them is IMHO the big problem.

    At least with most drunk drivers they do try and compensate, texters is full steam ahead and have to look at an incoming text as soon as it arrives wherever and whenever that is.

  • Massachusetts has recently enacted a new texting while driving law. In Ma teens are not allowed to use a cell phone at all.

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