Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Make them hang up and drive

Idaho’s statewide ban on texting and driving went into effect in July, but the new law missed the target of reducing distracted driving by miles. With the danger of driving and using a cell phone undiminished and public aggravation growing, it’s time for cities or counties to take action.

The texting ban garnered attention in a state where lawmakers had resolutely ignored scientific studies that found the effects of distracted driving to be as great as those of driving while intoxicated. But merely calling attention to the problem hasn’t solved it.

The texting ban is so weak that it’s likely that punishment for violators won’t come into play unless a driver is involved in an accident and evidence is discovered that shows that the driver was texting at the time of the accident. That’s too late.

The Legislature left it to law enforcement officers to try to determine which of the drivers with a cell phone in hand is texting as opposed to doing something legal like voice dialing, conducting a phone call or recording ideas for the book they’re going to write.

The Legislature left pedestrians and other drivers to play defense with distracted drivers. That’s not good enough.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2010, a total of 3,092 people died in “distraction-affected” crashes. An additional 410,000 were injured in such crashes. Drivers involved were texting, phoning or answering a call while driving.

If that many people had been killed in a terrorist attack on American soil there would be a noisy uprising of public sentiment that would change the laws fast.

It’s clear that for some of the most dangerous drivers in America—the ones on cell phones—appealing to personal responsibility doesn’t work. If it did, it would be a rare thing to see a driver talking on a cell phone.

If great numbers of drivers were to proceed down our highways and through our towns tossing their empty beer cans out the window within view of traffic cops, it’s a good bet that the phones of public officials would ring incessantly until something was done. Yet, drivers on cell phones are getting a free pass.

Counties and municipalities have the right to control traffic within their boundaries. Before the Idaho Legislature got around to banning texting, a handful of Idaho cities had beat state leaders to the punch. The Legislature needs to feel the pressure again.

Blaine County and its five cities should help build pressure by banning driving and using cell phones. If enough cities enact bans, maybe legislators will finally get the message. In the meantime, people living and visiting our area would be a lot safer.

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