Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Texting our way down that long, bloody highway

A man uses his cell phone as he drives through traffic in Dallas in 2013.
A man uses his cell phone as he drives through traffic in Dallas in 2013. AP

They’re trying to kill me.

They’re driving along A1A, drifting into the bike lane, impervious to my obscenity-laced protests, too engrossed in their hand-held electronic devices to realize that they’re on a homicidal tack. Nothing to do for it but pedal my bicycle onto the sidewalk and do to pedestrians what the oblivious cellphone-addicted drivers were doing to me.

Other days, I’m dodging texters who’ve caught me on one of the yield-to-pedestrian crosswalks my town has installed on fancier thoroughfares, apparently to accommodate walkers with suicidal tendencies. God help those hapless tourists who might suppose the signs at these crossings should be interpreted literally. Us locals know that traffic engineers dreamed up “yield to pedestrian” as a population control device.

If you bike, walk or drive in America in 2015, you’re sharing the roadway with drivers looking down rather than at the road. We’ve all seen them in the next lane over. Many of us, as we drive along and spot a texting driver, reach for our iPhones to report this outrage to all 436 of our followers on Twitter.

I realize that not everyone ignoring the road ahead is reading texts or emails or tweets or looking at videos of skateboarding penguins. Some of them may have their heads bowed in prayer, begging a higher power to save them from lunatic drivers.

Last week, the National Safety Council reported that in the first six months of 2015, traffic fatalities in the U.S. were up 14 percent compared to the same period the year before. Serious injuries were up 30 percent. We’re careening toward the deadliest driving year since 2007.

We’re wreaking traffic mayhem in the safest cars ever made, with airbags, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, electronic stabilization, reinforced passenger compartments and, on the fancier models, automatic braking and steering intervention systems. Yet we’re killing and maiming ourselves like it’s 2007 all over again.

The spike has automobile insurers in a tizzy, with profits going down and rates going up, wondering what the hell’s wrong. Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico, America’s second largest insurer, told the Wall Street Journal last week that texting was the only logical explanation for the leap in fatalities. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute supports Buffett’s theory, finding that texting while driving increases a motorist’s risk of a crash by 23 times.

Florida passed an anti-texting-and-driving law two years ago but only as a secondary offense. Last year, the Florida Highway Patrol only issued 2,061 tickets for texting.

Not that a tougher law would have any effect. (A 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that crashes actually went up in states that had passed strict texting laws.) These are addicts, physically unable to disconnect from social media. It’s like hoping tougher drug laws will persuade crackheads to give up cocaine.

Between the two scourges, I prefer the druggies. At least, they’re not trying to kill me.

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