The New York Times is running an Op Ed supporting Senator Charles Schumer’s anti-texting legislation. The Alert Driver’s Act of 2009 would compel states to enact anti-texting laws—or face the loss of 25 percent of their federally-supplied highway funding. The Gray Lady starts as it means to finish: misrepresenting the truth. “A leading road safety group, the Governors Highway Safety Association, has reversed field and announced its support for state laws banning drivers from sending and receiving text messages.” No, yes and kinda. GHSA Executive Director Barbara Hasha told TTAC that the organization hadn’t reversed itself. Before now, they simply “weren’t ready to endorse” the bill. And then they read the study cited by the NYT: a July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report claiming truckers are “23 times more likely to cause a crash or near-crash than a nontexting trucker.” Why truckers? Because the stats are 10 times higher than those for car drivers. (How many truckers text vs. car drivers?) And while the GHSA is pro anti-texting laws, they are NOT in favor of Schumer’s threat to remove federal funding.
“We feel it’s common sense,” Harsha said. “The states will do it [enact the anti-texting laws] without being forced to do so.”
Hang on; why have a new law in the first place? Why not prosecute motorists who text under existing dangerous driving laws?
Harsha admits that every state in the U.S. has laws prohibiting driving while texting. Not good enough. “Passing a law raises awareness,” she insists.
I pointed out that enacting redundant laws isn’t likely to endear state governors to voters who’ve recently shown a certain, shall we say “reticence” towards governmental expansion. Perhaps a public information campaign would be a better solution?
Harsha was undeterred. “We need new laws to remind people—especially young people—about the dangers of texting while driving . . . Public information campaigns have limited impact. The best way to change behavior is through enforcement.”