At a national conference on traffic safety a few weeks ago, I briefly met Matt Richtel, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning series on distracted driving in The New York Times helped bring this important issue to public attention. I'm just finishing reading an advance copy of his new book - A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. (The book from William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, goes on sale later this week.)
I think the book should be required reading for anyone applying for a driver's license, as well as for those of us who already drive. It's easy reading. The book, although non-fiction, reads like a fast-paced novel and the reader gets to really know and understand the various characters in the story. It tells of Reggie Shaw, in every way a model teenager who, like so many of his peers, used his cellphone to text while he was driving. Distracted, he crossed the yellow line and sideswiped an oncoming car, which caused a crash that killed two rocket scientists. The book chronicles the story of the driver, the victims, their families and the lawyers and prosecutors involved in the legal case that ensued.
What's important about this book is that it explains the science behind our addiction to texting and other mobile device functions. Yes, there is scientific proof, which the book explains, that texting or even just talking on a phone while driving is extremely dangerous. It takes us through, in easy to understand terms, the reasons we cannot multitask, despite assertions from so many -- especially young people who've grown up with texting -- that we can drive while doing other tasks.
Working on the PR side of traffic safety for some 20 years now, I've met with and heard from so many people who've had their lives dramatically changed by bad decisions behind the wheel. For many years, the culprit was alcohol, which still remains a real problem. Drowsiness is a significant factor as well, although driving drowsy is usually not a conscious decision we make.
Texting while driving is a conscious decision. And now that it's become clear that it does impact our ability to drive safely, there is absolutely no reason to do it. Legislators in 44 states have recognized that by making it illegal to text while driving. So if for no other reasion than risking a ticket and points on your license, all of us should refrain from this dangerous behavior.
But as Matt Richtel points out in his book, so many of us, knowing the physical dangers and the risk of a ticket and points, continue to text and talk on cellphones while we drive. There are now devices that can prevent people from texting or talking while driving, like an app made by one of my clients, LifeSaver. It's very inexpensive and simple to use, but it still requires a voluntary step by a parent or spouse.
Richtel reported last week about plans by the cellular industry to have a device that comes with new cars that will prevent any cellphone usage while the car is in motion. But, if it ever actually happens, it's still at least a few years away.
What I think is needed to stop what former Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood called "a national epidemic" that kills several thousand people every year is tougher laws with much higher fines and license suspension for a month after the first offense and license revocation after a second infraction. No excuses, no exclusions.
It's that serious. Read A Deadly Wandering and you'll understand and I'm sure you'll agree.