Forget texting crackdown — Time to disable phones (Opinion)
For three weeks in April beginning on the first of the month, the utility worker you see up in the cherry picker bucket might actually be a cop. Or the guy in the hoodie and Vans who looks like he's only waiting to cross at the light might be looking into your car. Or perhaps roving marked patrols in high off the ground SUVs (for a better vantage point) could be checking out what's going on inside your car.
We've heard all these scenarios from listeners in the past when police announce they are cracking down on texting while driving. They say this one is going to be massive. Only four states qualified for federal funds to conduct such operations and New Jersey is one of them. (Connecticut, Maine and Oregon are the others if you're wondering.)
However they look for you, they will indeed be looking. It sounds like they're not messing around anymore. Eric Heitmann is the director of the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety and he has some strong words.
"This is clearly one of the most critical traffic safety issues that we face today." According to Heitmann, "In 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed in distracted driving crashes and an estimated 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver."
Those are national numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. How bad are things in New Jersey?
Distraction was listed as a contributing circumstance in 53% of crashes in NJ in 2016 and that rate is nine times greater than the next contributing factor. That should be an eye-opener. But too many eyes might actually be reading this while they're driving and that person thinks it can never happen to them. They pick and choose their moments. They know when to text while driving and when not to. They glance up frequently. (Not as frequently as they think. According to NHTSA the average time looking at a text is 5 seconds. Would you drive 5 seconds on a highway with your eyes closed? If you're texting, you kind of are.)
If this crackdown is not enough to get drivers to drop their it-won't-happen-to-me beliefs, the fines have increased over the years. Remember, first offense is minimum $200, second $400, third $600 and the chance of losing your license for 90 days.
It has been recommended before by federal safety agencies that all cell phone use while driving be banned including hands free calls. When you can do some things on your phone and not others, isn't it adding to the temptation for that 'just a quick look?' Honestly it's time the feds mandated the tech industry make phones that cannot be used when in motion. Your own car's in dash system probably does this already. My built-in navigation system won't allow you to input new addresses when the vehicle is moving. If phones could be disabled from all use except 911 emergency calls it would save lives. Yes, it would be a huge adjustment. Those who use nav systems on their phones will scream. Solution? Go back to a dash mounted Garmin then. What about a passenger's right to use their phone since they aren't driving? It will be like going back to the dark ages! Yeah, the dark ages of 1990 when no one had these devices and we all managed to get along fine.
Forcing the industry to disable phones in motion is probably the only way to stop this scourge since people's human nature doesn't seem to let them make the right choices. When it happens, don't blame the government. Blame yourself.
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