Before the age of cell phones (remember?), people did other things while driving that distracted their attention. Drinking their morning coffee, eating, doing their hair, doing their makeup, even – I swear – reading from a file folder open across the steering wheel. On my daily commute, when I had one (I don’t count six miles to work as a commute), I saw all of these things. And yes, I was having my morning coffee and eating my coffee roll (okay, okay, two coffee rolls) on the way to work, too. I’ve seen accidents resulting from other distractions, too, like kids in the back seat, tuning the radio, trying to find a particular tape or CD, fishing for change or a cigarette. Now we’ve added cell phones with email, text, and Internet, GPSes, and iPods to the list of distractions vying for drivers’ attention.
Since I started riding motorcycles a few years ago I have become even more observant, even more wary of people not paying attention behind the wheel. I find it amazing, and frightening, to see how many people are talking on the phone, texting, and doing other things (like watching out for me!) when they should be paying attention to their driving.
More and more states, including Maine, have enacted partial or total bans on the use of handheld cell phones. Much like drunk driving laws, at least so far they don’t seem to have had much effect, though I will admit not having hard data to back that up.
That this incident was aggravated by alcohol and the invulnerability of youth doesn’t change the tragic outcome. Two teens dead, two seriously or critically injured, and many, many more lives affected by an unfortunate string of bad choices all around.
Will banning the use of cell phones prevent this kind of tragedy in the future? No, and banning other distracting behaviors won’t, either, but drivers should be held responsible for their actions whether drunk, distracted, or just plain dangerous.
I don’t use my phone much while I’m driving. If I have a passenger and my phone rings, I’ll often ask them to answer it, or I let it go to voice mail. I don’t text, though I have snuck peeks at my email and messages, usually at stop lights. And I do still have a cup of coffee from time to time, though driving only six miles to work doesn’t leave me much time to drink it.