Not that talking is much better. Hands-free devices were supposed to help, but they don’t. It turns out that it’s not holding the phone to your ear that makes you lose focus but the very act of having a conversation. Studies show that the odds a driver will stay in their own lane are no higher because their hands are theoretically steering the car.
So far, nothing has worked to halt the practice — not even expensive tickets. (New York City went on an enforcement binge in 2009: In one 24-hour crackdown, 7,432 tickets were written for texting or talking on a mobile phone while driving, compared with 580 on a typical day, yet New Yorkers haven’t changed their bad habits.) Nor have videos of lethal accidents proved dissuasive. (There are plenty on YouTube.)
The statistics alone should do the job. If today is like most days, nine people will die and more than 1,000 will be injured in crashes caused by distracted driving. Do you really still want to check whether you need to pick up a quart of milk on the way home?
It should be easy to pass some Draconian laws and get the money to enforce them (41 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging by drivers and 11 states ban drivers from using hand-held phones). It’s not as if there’s a lobby working against to protect the practice, as there were lobbies arguing in favor of tobacco (remember smoking on airplanes?) and cars that crumpled upon the slightest impact.
The need for enforcement goes down once a law takes hold; then self-enforcement sets in. Who fails to wear a seat belt or buckle a child in the back seat? An army of vigilantes rises up should someone light up a cigarette in a restaurant.
I’m going to run an experiment to wean myself off talking in the car as part of Mothers Against Distracted Driving, MADD II. I’m going to put the phone in the back seat. And if I sense someone is calling me from a car, I’ll tell them to hang up.
If I still feel the need to talk while traveling at high speed, I can always hop on a plane.