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Texting and Driving: A Dialog

Updated on June 21, 2013

With so many U.S. states banning phone use while driving it seems about time we get down to what the real issue is here. According to the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety so far up to until this point in time 11 states have banned phone calls while driving (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia), where also 41 states have banned sending messages while driving. As far as phone calls while driving goes, personally I don’t think a ban is necessary. If you cannot operate a cell phone, engage in conversation, and pay attention to the road at the same time then you shouldn’t be driving in the first place. Think about it. Think about the cognitive energy required to shift through available music options while driving; required focus isn’t far off from that needed to appropriately engage in a phone call. But this article isn’t about phone calls, is it?

Texting and driving. So why am I qualified to partake in this discussion. Well, I perform driving research at the University of Central Florida. At UCF I am a member of the MIT2 Human Factors Program (Our website can be found here where I focus in eye-tracking while driving and engaged cellphone use. Our previous experiment was that of a simulated “Siri” (Apple iPhone’s intelligent voice mistress) interaction in which a messaging while driving situation was created with voice prompts; this was then compared to messaging with an iPhone and the owner’s personal cell phone, also while driving. Frankly, the only reason we do this this sort of work is because of the prospect of laws such as these. The government wants to understand what it is doing to the people their law’s effect; handing out grants to schools and research facilities to pump out quality data on the matter. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the field of Psychology. Psychologists want to better understand the little parts about human behavior that the majority of the time are hidden away during daily activities. The driving experience is always changing due to newer technologies and laws - our job is to figure out where we fit and experiment accordingly. Thus for the past couple of years we have run experiments like the one I outlined previously; data makes the world go round. It is the only thing that can justify the addition of laws, the editing of laws, and thankfully? Our government takes it seriously.

And on to the meat..... Almost everybody texts while they drive. A good number don’t. An even better number of people have participated in it before at least once. That being said, texting while you drive is a leading cause of car accident related deaths in this country - we don’t need numbers to show that. But lets look at it from a different way.... When did we become such bad multitaskers? And even more important than that, when did we let our personal freedom liberty boundaries get so foggy?

Let me explain. Think about using your phone while you drive. What is the main reason you used it for? Probably because you were bored. If you are a good/responsible driver, maybe you don’t think twice about grabbing your phone while doing a solid 65 on the highway or while creeping along in 5o'clock traffic. It’s simply that - a distraction. Text messaging while driving is just another distraction. A willful distraction, yes, but something to occupy one’s boredom while behind the wheel of a vehicle. Let us say you get pulled over for.... Facebook messaging. Maybe you were just scanning Facebook or Instagram and reading about your old friend’s recent acquisition of a kitten. If a policeman pulls you over and asks to see your phone..... what are you supposed to do? Sir, I wasn’t texting. Good luck. It is seemingly impossible to accurately enforce a ban on messaging while driving without a breach in personal liberties. My phone is MY phone. Texting is a choice. Texting and driving is also a choice, even if it isn’t a wise one. To sum this point up in a nutshell I guess what I am saying is that we need laws that make us smarter - not account for our stupidity. I’m a Darwin supporter on this issue; if you are dumb enough to get fully engulfed in a text message while in control of a moving piece of a college physics homework problem then you have already accepted the possible outcomes. Not everybody needs this rambling speech to understand what they can and cannot do because all and all, it’s about knowing your limits. Knowing when cell phone use has reached a tipping point. If you are texting, scrolling Facebook and liking material, listening to music, and using Google maps to find where you are going then you have already accepted that you are not using a cell phone.. A cell phone is using you.

In summary, texting and driving is a foggy line. The distinction between text messages and Facebook messages, messaging apps, and the plethora of modern cell phone applications makes it close to impossible for a law enforcement official to figure out what was being using while completely infringing on personal liberties. Banning cell phone use while driving is valid - you could hurt yourself, you could hurt somebody else, and you could possibly kill somebody. But, that’s the choice we make when we decided to be a free people. A valid ruling doesn’t always mean that it was a necessary ruling. And that is just my personal opinion on the matter. Enacting laws to protect dump people from doing dumb things is dumb.

End of story.


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