Sending the wrong text message

Drivers continue to pay more attention to their cell phones than the road, and not enough is being done to stop it

Blog Entry May 07, 2012

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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My cousin shows up in my mind more than she shows up on my doorstep. It's the nature of the game, I guess. Most of my relatives live in Michigan, and at best I see them once a year. Even though visits have been scarce, Mary Elizabeth holds a special place in my brain--and I do not know why. Memories of her as a toddler randomly flash in front of my eyes. Maybe it has to do with the adorable way she repeatedly pointed and said "Duck!" while prancing around my grandparents' cottage. Or the time when she randomly, at 2 years old, gave me a long, big hug in my grandmother's kitchen. The most recent episode recorded by my brain cells took place at her brother's wedding last summer. We sat next to each other at the bridal-party table, and soaked in the first hour or so of the reception just catching up. 


It was almost the last vision I had of my cousin. Last week, while making her rounds as a medical sales rep in the state of Michigan, she was at a stop light when a vehicle rammed her from behind traveling at 50 mph. Mary Beth, keen to the fact that this driver was preoccupied leading up to the intersection, purposely stopped about 15 yards behind the idling car in front of her and braced for the impact. The collision was so fierce her car still slammed into the other one, and Mary Beth suffered a nasty case of whip lash. It could have been worse--a lot worse.


It turns out the driver responsible for the accident was, yes, texting while driving. Texting while driving is against the law in Michigan, just as it is in several other states. However, something slapped together by politicitans does not strike any fear into self-absorbed motorists. In the past I have spoken out against these texting-while-driving bans, because I think they are handled in all the wrong way. Making something illegal does not make it go away, especially when it is extremely difficult to be enforced. Just what do we expect the police to do? Spend the entire day randomly following cars to see if they are texting?


Something more drastic needs to be done--something that will strike that fear. Texts have a time and date stamp, so if somebody is in an accident you might be able to mount a case that texting was to blame. Penalties should be harsh, so harsh that the convicted motorist will never be caught looking at their cell phone again while driving. If that is not enough to curb the habit, technology needs to be developed to block the ability to roam the Internet or text while in a moving car.


All this talk from U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and state lesislators is going nowhere. Nobody is taking it to heart, because I see people looking down at a device while driving every day. In fact, just recently I looked over to someone I was passing and noticed he was enjoying wifi on his iPad, which was resting comfortably between his legs.


More people are going to be killed because this whole texting-while-driving campaign sounds more like a lecture that would come from your mother. "Now, be sure not to text while driving. It's against the law, you know?" "Yeah, whatever Mom. See ya."


I do not get the chance to see my cousin very often, but the opportunity still exists. A high-flying texter could have made it extinct.

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