Sometimes technology makes us safer and at other times it causes us to put ourselves into more danger than necessary. Cell phones when used appropriately are great to have. Almost everybody has one these days, but using them while driving is as bad as or worse than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Last issue when I wrote “Distracted driving focus of new group supported by Oprah, DOT’s LaHood,” about distracted driving and all who had come on board recently to fight it and I was doing cartwheels in my mind with excitement that this issue was gaining so much momentum.
And then later while working on this issue of The Trucker I got an e-mail that Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be holding a news conference about distracted driving. Joining him at the conference was Anne Ferro, administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It was pretty much a given by her attendance that it was trucking related.
The conference was to announce that effective immediately truckers and bus drivers would be banned from texting while driving. Part of me was jumping for joy over this announcement and the other part was wondering which “professional trucker” would think that it was safe to text while driving, anyway, and why we were even having to have this discussion.
The monetary fine for texting and driving for commercial drivers could be as much as $2,750. In addition, Ferro announced that by summertime there would be a proposed rule on other cell phone use. My guess is that it will be a ban on all cell phone use while driving commercial vehicles, but I don’t have any insider information. I just know that LaHood is really fighting cell phone use while driving and pushing for states to ban it for auto users, while he has the federal power to mandate what truckers can and cannot do.
After LaHood’s announcement I visited a couple of favorite networking sites, starting with Facebook, where I found that some truck drivers were upset about this texting ban. One said something to the effect of: They’ve taken everything else away from us, why not this, there’s not going to be anything left?
Really, I wondered, is this person serious?
Here are a few other comments I found online:
• “Seems the only enforcement will be after an accident has happened. This is all just to satisfy the media.”
• “Why should a professional driver need a law against it in the first place? He or she should know better.”
• “Hey, you all need to quit [complaining], texting is not a good thing to do driving a big truck or [for a] a four-wheeler.”
• “I know no one feels the same as me, but I think texting is safer for me, because it doesn’t distract me.”
• “How does anyone text while driving? Why don’t you just drive with your eyes closed while you’re at it?” and
• “I must admit, this will definitely affect me. I never, well almost never, text while driving when I have customers with me. But when I’m by myself, I text and get texts constantly. The cell phone service is so hit-or-miss around here, I do most of my mobile communication via text messaging.”
Comments seemed to be mixed on whether or not people felt it was safe.
Several people have questioned why commercial drivers were banned from texting and not four-wheelers. The answer to that is that commercial drivers are governed by the feds while others are governed by state laws. Many states have already banned texting while driving and some have banned hand-held cell phone use while driving.
Even if, and I’m just really saying that tongue in cheek, you think you can drive and text while in any vehicle, let alone a big rig, how are you going to see those four-wheelers darting around your truck if you aren’t watching closely? Can you text and watch the road and keep an eye on them too? That’s talent and maybe you’re better suited for a circus, somewhere, because I’m just not falling for it.
If you didn’t see Oprah or any of the other shows about texting or talking on a phone while driving, then you missed something worthwhile. There were those on the show who swore they were excellent texters and could drive and text just fine — that is — until they are put to the test and realized just how much they swerved and got out of their traffic lanes while driving.
The other day I got something interesting in my e-mail. A white paper from ZoomSafer called: “Distracted Driving: Understanding Your Business Risk and Liability.” According to the abstract of the paper, it examines the deadly practice of driving while using a mobile device and the impact such behavior can have on business liability.
The following was of great interest to me as I read that other countries around the world have long prohibited the use of cell phones when driving. Great Britain made it a criminal offense to use a cell phone while driving in 2003, and Japan outlawed use of a cell phone while driving in 2002 (and made it punishable by up to three months imprisonment.)
I’ve got to tell you, in my opinion this is what it’s probably going to take in the U.S. to stop it. The slap-on-the-wrist $20 fines just won’t stop someone from using a phone while driving. If DUI laws mandated small fines like that would drunken driving be on the decline? I don’t think so. It’s the risk of losing a license or worse yet, jail time, which causes many to not drink and drive.
And don’t believe the latest study which claims laws banning cell phone use while driving have zero effect on the number of crashes on our nation’s roadways. Just because people are still using cell phones in banned areas doesn’t mean it’s safe to use cell phones, it just means the laws aren’t harsh enough and people don’t pay any attention to them.
If you care about yourself or have family and friends you don’t want to lose to a crash caused by a reckless driver, then you don’t want people out there texting or talking on a phone while driving. Even if it means you have to stop, too.
And if I still don’t have your attention, make sure to look closely at the picture that is included with this column, the one where a school bus was rammed by a truck driver talking on his cell phone; the same one where a little girl burned to death.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.