Text and drive? If you live in England, and someone dies because you rear end them while texting, you will face jail time. In 2008, Great Britain issued a directive which clearly states that "prolonged texting" may be prosecuted as inflicting "death by dangerous driving."
Consider the wrenching, horrific case of a young Oxford woman, Victoria McBryde, an aspiring fashion designer who happened to find herself with a flat tire on a motorway outside London when along comes another young woman, about her own age, who is too busy texting about a celebrity encounter she just had to recognize that fiat was broken down, runs into her, killing her instantly.
As the New York Times reports, the texter, Phillipa Curtis, exchanged more than 20 text messages with half a dozen friends within an hour of the crash in 2007. Under the 2008 directive, the defendant was sentenced to 20 months in a maximum security women's prison after having been convicted of "causing death while driving," but she will also face a lifetime of remorse.
Today, at a community college in Northern California, I asked a group of youngsters whose ages range from 18 to 24 how many of them text and drive. Two-thirds of their hands went up. I told Victoria McBryde's story. Only two of the twenty students in the room said that what happened to this British girl, and/or others like her, would make them change their behavior.
One wonders if the U.S. were to pass similar legislation to the British, and give prison time for every traffic fatality that results from text messaging, if the response would be dramatically different? Human life appears to be dramatically cheaper here.
The British, after all, haven't sent nearly as many youngsters to meet their maker in Iraq and Afghanistan as we have. The British don't have drive-by shootings nor do they have anywhere near the amount of homicides we do.
While an overwhelming majority of Americans, a whopping 97% according to a recent poll, want to make text messaging while driving illegal, only a handful of states have banned cell phone use while driving, and those states, like California, are woefully delinquent in enforcing the ban.
While haunted today by the image of that 24-year-old British girl whose life filled with beauty and promise, shattered by a perverse lack of regard for the sanctity of human life, I was struck, too, by the photograph of her mother placing flowers in front of her cold marble grave. What must it be like to give birth to such promise only to have it cut down by such a random, senseless act.
The only thing more horrifying to was the icy cold glare in the eyes of those students who will continue to do as they wish thinking that they are somehow mysteriously exempted from accountability.
Who can blame them really when we've created a system in which truth and consequences are selectively applied, when two people may commit the same crime and one may escape punishment not because he's innocent, but because he can afford top drawer defense, a land where even the Statue of Liberty has her hand out not to the poor, the disenfranchised, but to the illusion of privilege which pervades every last sinew of our body politic.
For such a trifling thing as sending a text message, two young women's lives were ruined, and there will be many more unless and until legislative prohibitions against cell phone use of any kind are passed, and enforced.
Follow Jayne Lyn Stahl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaynelynstahl