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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Texting While Driving: Do Prawfs Do It Too?

The New York Times reported today on a new technology that will disable a cellphone (except for emergency calls) when GPS detects that the cellphone is moving at driving speeds.   Drivers trying to kick the habit of talking (or texting) while driving can use the service to counteract their own impulses, and auto insurance companies are now offering discounts to drivers who use the technology.

This is a nice technological approach to a problem -- distracted driving from cellphone use -- that has cost countless lives.  The states have been slow to address it.  As the Times article reported, studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that drivers are four times more likely to have an accident if they are talking on the phone — hands-free or not — while driving.  Peer-reviewed studies of drivers in simulators show that talking on a phone while driving – again, hands-free or not – gives the driver the reaction time of a legally intoxicated person.

In my torts class last year, I took my own unscientific survey on the prevalence of texting while driving.  I asked my students if they have ever read emails or text messages while driving, and about three quarters of the sixty students answered yes.  When I asked if they had ever composed emails or text messages while driving, about half answered yes.   So much for tort-based deterrence of law students.

So, PrawfsBlawg readers, how would you respond to these same questions?  Have your thumbs ever danced across the keyboard while your fingers (or knees) held the wheel?  Are you one of the few who has decided to go cold-turkey on cellphone use while driving?  Have you ever been involved in an accident attributable to your own (or another driver’s) cellphone use?  Send in your stories.

We need a legislative and cultural shift on cellphone use while driving similar to what happened in the 1980s with drunk driving. Eighteen states now outlaw texting while driving, and five states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington) plus the District of Columbia outlaw talking on a cellphone while driving.  President Obama, through an Executive Order issued in October, banned all federal employees from texting while driving on official business.  ExxonMobil and other major corporations, concerned about tort liability, prohibit their employees from using cellphones while driving on the job.  

This issue is not about personal freedom.  Drivers who use a cellphone, and especially those who text and takes their eyes off the road, are externalizing risk to everyone else for their own personal convenience.  We will undoubtedly see more legislation in the future.  A recent poll showed that ninety-seven percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on texting and driving, and eighty percent support a ban on use of handheld cellphones while driving.  

In the meantime, can't we all wait to get to the office to check email?

Posted by Noah Sachs on November 22, 2009 at 11:16 PM | Permalink


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Wouldn't this disable the cell phones of passengers, too? It's often helpful to have one of your passengers call for directions while you drive, or something like that. It would also suck for bus and train passengers.

Posted by: Hanah | Nov 23, 2009 1:53:16 PM

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