On September 8, a national story came out of the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association in Scottsdale, Ariz., asking whether 16 year olds were too young to get a driver's license. Researchers for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety pressed the question after presenting statistics that point to (what they feel is the fact) that the longer kids wait and train to drive, the better their chances of survival. I'm not an expert and, fortunately, don't know anyone directly who died from a car accident when I first got my license, but I get it. And when you add to the fact that teenagers text and talk on their cell phones at a greater rate than most people, you're just adding fuel to the fire.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that the driving age get set back a year (hell, I'm actually for lowering the drinking age to 18 because I feel that if you allow kids to drink earlier they won't be as prone to binge drink in college, but that's another subject), but reforms set forth in Illinois -- including requiring teens to have two times as much adult-supervised driving training and three times as much time possessing a learner's permit -- seem to show that raising the age actually lowers the fatality rate. What doesn't seem to be taken into consideration? Texting while driving. At least not until now. And it isn't only being applied to teenagers.
We've all done it. Hell, I'm currently seeking treatment for it. Okay maybe not treatment, but I'm doing my best to curb the activity. Why? It's one of the dumbest things you can do as a driver -- possibly second to drinking and driving (yes, it's true, driving buzzed is still driving drunk. Those billboards don't lie). It takes your focus away from the road and onto your phone -- and in that split second you can hit a car or, worse, a person.
Two days after the GHSA met in Arizona, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke proposed a new law seeking to ban drivers from using iPhones, BlackBerries or your standard old-school cell phone to text or browse the Web while driving. This is added to the already-in-place-but-rarely acknowledged hands-free driving law that Chicago enacted more than three years ago (seriously, it is that hard to get a bluetooth headset or wired earpiece). People constantly talk on their phones while driving (don't get me started on how mad this makes me -- because they're the ones always doing something stupid while driving), but as if that weren't bad enough, I've also seen numerous police officers break the law time and again. I asked one of my dog-park friends, who herself is a cop, about this last summer. She had the nerve to tell me that cops were likely on their phones for official business. I know there's an exception to the law for on-duty police, but when does serious official business include laughing hysterically as you drive down the street? True story. I saw it happen. That cop should've been fined. But why would they? Cops don't seem to care when civilians do it either.
Regardless, too many people spend too much time texting, talking, browsing, eating, drinking and reading while behind the wheel -- and don't pay attention to what's going on outside the car. Earlier this week, while riding my bike along the lakefront path, a man rolled through the intersection, not looking to see if anyone was riding or jogging on the path. Why? Because he was trying to find a number in his phone. Or maybe he was texting. Either way, I was fortunate enough to be paying attention to what he was doing to slow down and let him roll through so he wouldn't hit me.
Ed Burke's proposed law, which would fine an abuser $50 if caught holding a phone and up to $200 if they cause an accident, sounds like a great idea. But just like the hands-free law that's supposedly in effect in Chicago, this new law will, sadly, most likely get ignored as well. At least until too many 16 year olds die while texting and driving. Then maybe people will start paying attention.