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Texting When Driving Potentially Illegal in US Karishma Sundaram | , 12:16 p.m. Aug. 3, 2009 2009-08-03

We all know how distracting a cell phone can be; whether in a meeting, or whilst driving. Most theatres, conference rooms and even some restaurants ask people to turn off their mobile phones when on the premises. 

Driving is an activity that requires total concentration, not because it is difficult, but a completely focused driver is more likely to be able to assess potential situations proactively. When using a mobile phone, the driver’s attention is divided, if not wholly diverted. There are some fortunate individuals who can multi-task without allowing their efficiency to be compromised, but most people do not have this enviable attribute. 

The US Senate has recently been discussing a bill on banning text messaging when driving. If the legislation is passed, the rest of the country will be subject to what Virginia initiated on the 1st of July. 

The first state to ban texting while driving, Virginia’s decision was based on a report that was released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The report listed a number of reasons why truck drivers come to grief on the roads. The common theme underlying the top four or five reasons was a mobile phone and a driver’s inattention to traffic. 

The study used data gathered over a period of 2 years, from 2005 to 2007. Unlike other similar tests, the test subjects were actual truckers that had cameras mounted in their cabs instead of using driving simulators to collect data. The truckers were willing participants, having volunteered for the study. Therefore the test results were based on real driving on the roads as opposed to extrapolated inferences made from driving simulations. 

Texting while driving seems like an obviously foolhardy thing to do, but that doesn’t stop a large number of the population. The generation that uses text messaging extensively is now on the roads; therefore the problem is more widespread and real than before. There are a few people who can text without looking at the mobile; however these are few and far between, leaving the majority who peers at increasingly smaller phones whilst driving. 

Surprisingly most drivers will acknowledge the dangers of texting while driving, but also admit to doing so anyway. However that may change very soon. 

Senators proposed the bill immediately, without losing any time. The bill, called the ALERT (Avoid Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting) Drivers Bill, aims to ban texting in all states. The bill proposes that legislation be adopted as soon as possible by all the states, or the states stand to forego 25% of their federal highway funds for each year that they do not implement the legislation. Considering this would have a negative impact on the economy, these pressure tactics may just ensure the successful adoption of the bill.

Most of the carriers are on board with the legislation, although there are mixed reactions about the success of enforcing the legislation. The CTIA, a group that represents wireless carriers, said that it would be more fruitful to coach people on the dangers of distracted driving, and attempt to change the behaviours that way, rather than with legislation.

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