Hysteria over texting and driving

Don’t text and drive. This is a pretty simple, common sense rule, and in a perfect world should not need to be spelled out by law. The Indiana legislature did spell it out a few years ago, by passing the law quoted below:

IC 9-21-8-59

Use of telecommunications device while operating a moving motor vehicle

Sec. 59. (a) A person may not use a telecommunications device to:

(1) type a text message or an electronic mail message;

(2) transmit a text message or an electronic mail message; or

(3) read a text message or an electronic mail message;

while operating a moving motor vehicle unless the device is used in conjunction with hands free or voice operated technology, or unless the device is used to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.

(b) A police officer may not confiscate a telecommunications device for the purpose of determining compliance with this section or confiscate a telecommunications device and retain it as evidence pending trial for a violation of this section.

The problem with the law is that it is too specific. It would have made more sense to generally prohibit electronic distractions or to enhance the penalties for causing an accident because you are distracted. The law prohibits sending or reading text messages or electronic mail, but people use their smartphones for a lot more than that. The law does not prohibit using Facebook or Twitter, nor does it prohibit playing Final Fantasy V Angry Birds.

It is also silly that the “telecommunications device” cannot be confiscated.

But in New Jersey, legitimate concern over texting and driving has become outright hysteria, with a lawsuit against a teenager for sending a text message to a driver. She was not even in an automobile at the time, much less driving one.

This is literally insane.

I can see a passenger being prosecuted for distracting the driver and causing an accident, such as in the case where a man in Indianapolis punched his girlfriend repeatedly while she was driving. But the teenager who sent the text was not the car. Someone sending a text cannot force the other person to respond while driving. Even if the person sending a text message knows the person he/she is texting is driving at the time, the driver’s behavior is not the other person’s responsibility. It is the driver’s responsibility to keep his eyes on the road.

I have texted people when I knew they were driving. I expect the person getting my text will wait until he/she is in a safe place before reading or responding. If he/she does not follow that common sense rule, that is not my responsibility. While I understand the pain and loss suffered by the family of the people killed because of the teenage driver’s irresponsible and recklessly dangerous behavior, this lawsuit had the potential to set a dangerous precedent for even more oppressive nanny-state regulations of our daily lives.

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