Shut up and drive


On Friday, Rhode Island law enforcement officers will begin to enforce a new law that further prohibits the use of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle and, as a result, more Rhode Islanders will hopefully let the message sink in that texting or talking while driving a car is a foolish, potentially deadly practice that is always a bad idea.

Texting and driving is already a crime in the state, but the new law will prohibit holding your phone to have a conversation while driving as well. Violators who are caught can expect a $100 fine, with subsequent fines possible indefinitely.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nine people die every day in the United States due to distracted driving; over 1,000 deaths every year from something wholly preventable. Many of those fatalities involve people who did nothing wrong but were hit due to somebody else making a selfish choice to not pay attention while driving a two-ton wrecking ball at 55 miles per hour.

Despite this fact, the reactions to this law by people who commit these brazen acts of self-destructiveness will likely range from apathy to indignation. Besides, it’s everyone else who is incapable of texting or talking safely while driving right? Why am I being punished for something I can do just fine?

The truth of the matter is that nobody can text or talk on the phone and drive well enough to compensate for the inherent risks that you open yourself up to by doing so – nobody.

There are three ways to become distracted while driving: visually (eyes off the road), manually (hands off the steering wheel) and cognitively (mind wanders somewhere else, besides what’s going on in front of you). Talking while driving, at the very least, impacts two of those areas, while texting and driving affects all three. They are both wholly irresponsible and dangerous maneuvers.

If you’re traveling at 55 miles per hour, taking your eyes off the road for just five seconds is long enough to traverse an entire football field. At even much slower speeds, taking your eyes off the road for just one second is more than enough time to miss a driver stopping short in front of you, or a kid or dog running haphazardly into the road. A single second can result in a costly collision or, at the very worst, a life altering accident you never truly recover from, and it would also be solely your fault.

That’s the element that people who engage in these practices are simply not understanding. This isn’t a matter of whether or not you can operate a vehicle safely enough to be able to use a phone when everything goes predictably on the road – it’s a matter of will you be paying attention at the split-second moment when things change as you don’t expect them to; when that driver stops short or swerves into your lane or that runaway baby carriage careens into the street.

Nothing short of an absolute emergency – we’re talking hostage situation where if you hang up the phone, your brother gets dropped into a river with cement shoes on – is more important in the short minutes you spend driving in a car than what is happening on the road. We normalize it through our repeated ventures onto it, but there is truly no more dangerous place in our society than any given stretch of road where people inhabit with their vehicles; we need to admit this and account for it.

For those times when you absolutely need to make or take a phone call, Bluetooth technology has been around for well over a decade now. You can pick up good quality Bluetooth receivers that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter for $5 online, and most new cars within the last five years have become equipped with them standard off the lot. There simply isn’t an argument that going hands-free is beyond anybody’s means in today’s tech-saturated world.

The bill even provides a mulligan for a first offense – where you can purchase a hands-free device, show the receipt and get the $100 fee waived, hopefully with a lesson learned in the meantime.

The aim of the law is simple. It’s to try and protect both the innocent, law-abiding citizens and hopefully prevent those who would otherwise jeopardize their own health and the health of others. This isn’t about government overstepping boundaries or a slippery slope towards oppression – this is a simple matter of common sense that will hopefully save lives.


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