I was recently blowing my top at a particularly boneheaded move by a gadget-addled motorist in front of me when a friend who was riding shotgun whispered, "Don't forget, they're more important than you are."
Her remark brought a laugh and punctured my anger, but it also managed to hit, head-on as it were, the core issue of the whole texting-and-dialing-while-driving debate: respect. In that moment, whatever that driver was focused on and whomever he was texting to were far more important than whether I ended my day with a call to my auto insurance agent.
So major kudos to the National Transportation Safety Board this week for screaming "Enough!" and calling for a nationwide ban on cellphone use, e-mailing and texting while driving.
"No call, no text, no update is worth a human life," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman in announcing the recommendation. "Needless lives are lost on our highways, and for what? Convenience? Death isn't convenient. So we can stay more connected? A fatal accident severs that connection."
As research shows, talking, e-mailing and texting behind the wheel are not analogous to other forms of distraction, such as rolling with music or downing a McRib on the fly. It is far more engaging, far more demanding of our attention – and far more deadly.
This year alone, 3,092 of our relatives, friends and neighbors are no longer with us due to distracted driving, according to NTSB figures. An acquaintance of mine is lucky to be alive after being hit head-on by a texting driver.
To their credit, the American Insurance Association applauded NTSB's bold move. Quoting president and CEO Leigh Ann Pusey: "When you consider that driving is the most dangerous daily activity for the typical American, few issues are more important than our actions behind the wheel. While we have made great strides in highway safety, more must be done."
Granted, the real work lies ahead. So far, 35 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, 30 have banned cellphone use by beginning drivers and 15 states have assumed the ostrich position. Enforcement has been lax and fines minimal. Arriving at anything resembling a national ban will be akin to herding kittens.
To further complicate matters, there's bound to be pushback from the cellular industry and perhaps automakers to the NTSB recommendation that hands-free calling be banned as well.
But it's the right call at the right time. Stop the carnage. Stop the insanity.
Motorists who put their personal connectivity ahead of the safety of others have no business behind the wheel. Period.
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