Few things are more intriguing than the sound of your phone’s text message notification. Whether you’re sleeping, studying for finals or jotting down notes in class, that familiar tone is enough to snap most people out of their mental slumbers and send them scrambling through purses and pockets in search of their beloved digital babies.
To be honest, I catch myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit. Blame it on our growing obsession with instant communication, or our compelling fear of being left out of the loop; for whatever reason we just can’t seem to put the damn things down.
I actually want to take this moment to commend students who have mastered the art of texting undetected in class. I’m not encouraging this behavior, but the stealth necessary to text a two paragraph response without garnering the “I know what you’re doing and you’re not being sneaky about it” death stare from the professor deserves some recognition, don’t you think?
What I’m especially curious to learn, however, is how you would react to that same text message notification if I plucked you out of a classroom setting and placed you behind the wheel of a vehicle going 75 mph. Would you instinctively snatch up your phone, or would you think twice before using your mobile device while driving?
Roughly 50 percent of drivers between 21 and 24 years old would go ahead and reach for it, according to a new report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In fact, there were few situations in which a significant number of those surveyed said they would “never” use a cell phone, with bad weather and bumper-to-bumper traffic leading the list.
Even more alarming, however, is the shocking number of people who said they would use their phones to text even if they were merging into traffic (95 percent), driving on winding roads (98 percent) or if they had a baby or a child in the car (98 percent).
Have we become so accustomed to having 24/7 access to our phones we’ve completely forgotten when certain situations call for us to put them down?
I’m sure many of you will pipe up defensively about how you’re an experienced driver, and how proficient you are at multitasking behind the wheel. Well, guess what? Plenty of girls can not only eat breakfast, but also apply makeup while on the road, even making U-turns using just their knees.
These people make and receive phone calls and text messages, loiter on Facebook Mobile and fumble with the radio, all while coasting down busy San Diego highways sometimes at more than 80 mph. Does the fact that people can do it, and do it well, make it any less reckless or stupid? Does it make you feel safe to know there are people like this on the road?
According to the report, it seems a majority of Americans only find distracted driving dangerous when other people do it. Go figure. Fewer than 25 percent of respondents believe texting while driving makes no difference in their ability to manage the vehicle safely. On the other hand, 96 percent of respondents said they consider other drivers who text or send emails to be unsafe. Ah, the notorious double standard.
So what realistic solutions are we looking at here? Thirty-five states, including California, have already banned texting while driving. But plenty of Americans still do it. Approximately one out of four respondents said fines of up to $500 should be issued to those caught texting behind the wheel, a measure that many support. However, plenty of people will still do it.
That’s because enforcing these laws is only part of the solution. We can increase the fines to $1,000 and have every state in this country implement the same ban. But until we actively change our attitudes regarding our own distracted-driving habits, people are going to continue cruising down Interstate 5 with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on a QWERTY keyboard.
— Stacey Oparnica is a journalism junior.