Friday, January 29, 2010

Texting While Driving -- What I Still Don't Get

This entry is going to be sort of a rehash of comments I've already made on Choosing a Soundtrack and I rehash them, however, because the big question I have about TWD remains unanswered: How is this going to work legally?

I heard all the chatter on the radio this morning about the great triumph of common sense in Massachusetts because our legislature got together and passed some tough laws regarding Texting While Driving. There are graduated fines for repeated offenses, there's some new verbiage about minors and cell phones (they can't use 'em while driving, period), and there are even provisions about "receiving a text."

I don't disagree at all. Just like everyone else and their mother, I have long been opposed to Texting While Driving from a safety point of view. And as I've written many times here before (and will again), I am VERY opposed to the idea that a cell phone is a leash. I know the cell is relatively new technology, so I'm still hoping we can return to the days where it was okay not to answer your phone and you didn't have to apologize for it.

I also think those two things are intertwined -- people would be less likely to TWD or Jawjack While Driving if their boss/friend/spouse/partner, etc. were more understanding of the fact that it's we who own our cell phones, and not vice versa.

But off that little soapbox for a second -- What I still don't get is how you can enforce an anti-TWD measure.

Here's why: People use their cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, or you name it for myriad reasons. Unless we make ALL of that stuff illegal while driving -- checking the weather, sports scores, news headlines, etc. it seems that anyone pulled over for sending or receiving a text could plausibly say "No, Mr. Officer, I was just sending a fax via my toaster," or whatever other neat thing their iGadget can do. See my point?

This isn't a rhetorical question.

If anyone out there knows this, or knows if it's just an issue of a police officer's discretion, or if the law is really just intended to scare people into not doing it, or for individual State Reps or Senators to say "Look! I did something to promote safety" then let me know.


kad barma said...

I look at this as a lot like our existing seat belt laws. It's good sense, and the cops never mind having another statute with which to charge somebody they think is in need of being charged when there are a lot of other thing going on, too. But I would agree it's not going to be an enforceable stand-alone infraction, either, but I don't think that is the point.

The real goal is public behavior change, and that takes awareness--and passing a law is a good first step towards achieving that awareness. Not everybody buckles up, and not everyone will keep their hands off their little crackberries, but every little bit helps.

The New Englander said...

I'll buy that for a dollar. Having the law on the books -- and publicizing it -- gives people a stronger reason not to do it, it gives parents of young drivers some teeth behind them when they say, "Don't ever TWD," and, as you said, another statute-feather in the cap of a policeman who needs to charge someone.

For those reasons, I definitely support the law, even though if I were a lawyer I know the first direction I'd run towards if my client were ever busted for TWD..