It takes only three seconds of distraction to cause 80 percent of accidents, according to a 2006 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And most text messages take longer than three seconds to type. Text messaging is a dangerous distraction on the road, where conditions and threats change suddenly. The Michigan Senate recently passed a pair of bills that will ban texting while driving. While the bill is an important measure, the state should combat this dangerous habit with an exhaustive statewide media campaign to make people aware of the consequences of driving while texting.
Michigan will soon join the 28 states that currently have a partial or total ban on texting while driving. Michigan State Senate Bill 402, passed on Jan. 29, will make texting while driving a secondary offense. Police officers will not be able to pull over an alleged texting driver. But if drivers pulled over for other reasons, like speeding or reckless driving, are found to have been texting, they will face additional charges and fines. The accompanying Senate Bill that outlines enforcement, Bill 468, prescribes a $200 fine for first-time offenders. Subsequent offenders are subject to a $500 fine.
Most people know the dangers of driving drunk. But not as many are concerned about the dangers of texting enough to leave their cell phones in their pockets or purses. But a 2009 study by the VTTI concluded that drivers are 23 times more likely to crash while texting than while focusing on the road. And a 2008 study by the Transport Research Laboratory showed that texting while driving decreases reaction time more than the effects of alcohol. Drunk drivers are subject to huge fines, license suspensions and jail time. And though texting while driving is comparably dangerous, little has been done to stop it in Michigan — until now.
The current form of the bill is a relief. During the time that the bill was tabled in 2009, there was discussion of making violation of the ban a primary offense, which could have given officers tremendous latitude to pull drivers over for anything resembling texting. Making the violation a secondary offense avoids this concern.
But the legislation alone isn’t the most effective solution to the dangers of texting while driving. The state must fund a campaign highlighting the risks associated with driving while distracted. And since teens — who already have a high risk of accident — commonly text more than adults, they are more likely to be texting while driving. Incorporating lessons on the dangers of texting while driving into driver’s education programs could help stop the problem before it starts.
Next, the state should launch a media campaign that will make drivers aware of the consequences of getting caught texting while driving. The state’s successful “Click It or Ticket” program should be the model for a similar campaign to stop texting while driving. Efforts to avoid a fine, even more than knowledge of the danger, will prevent drivers from texting.
Texting misspelled messages to friends isn’t worth causing a car accident. The state has done its part to outlaw this dangerous behavior. Now it must spread the word.