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Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Distractions have no place while on road

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
Jan. 4, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2014 at 7:04 p.m.


Modern technology has brought about all kinds of positive changes in our lives. It helps us in health care, business, security, travel and more. But with all of those advances come some drawbacks as well.

Cellphones have become so integrated into people's lives that many have trouble setting them down - even when driving a vehicle. Look into any car on the road and you're likely to see the driver either texting or talking on a cellphone. Texas is one of a shrinking number of states that does not limit cellphone usage when operating a vehicle. Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed legislation that would have banned texting while driving, saying that the legislation was government micromanagement and the best way to dissuade drivers from texting behind the wheel is to focus on education and awareness.

That sounds nice in theory, but the reality is that Texas has gone more than 13 years without seeing one day free of fatality wrecks. We would like to believe that people would be responsible enough to act on the numerous commercials, programs and awareness campaigns reminding people to put the phone down while driving, but that would be a naive assumption. The reality is that sometimes, people have to know their actions can bring serious consequences before they will change a bad habit. If using a cellphone while driving is treated with a similar attitude to drinking and driving, maybe people will begin to change.

People are unpredictable. Every person thinks and behaves differently, which can make driving a dangerous activity without any distractions. To be fair, some people are better at driving while talking on a phone than others. But the driver's license test doesn't cover driving proficiency while using a cellphone. In fact, using a cellphone during a driving test would most likely end with a failing grade.

Thankfully, technology is advancing to the point that hands-free technology is becoming readily available for fairly affordable prices. Smartphones with bluetooth and other hands-free options are becoming much more common, and many new vehicles come equipped with radios that have bluetooth available. As these tools become more readily available, the need to hold a phone and talk becomes less prevalent and the level of distraction becomes closer to talking with a passenger sitting in the same car.

It's time for Texas to reexamine the need for legislation limiting the use of cellphones while driving. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 3,399 people died in traffic fatalities in 2012. That's an almost 11 percent increase from 2011. Not all of these deaths were caused by distractions from cellphones, but the hazard is there. It is time for Texas lawmakers to take action and create legislation that will limit the use of cellphones while driving.

Who knows? With Perry stepping down, maybe the next governor will have a more common-sense approach to balancing personal rights with promoting safety on the highway. Driving a car is not a constitutionally protected right. It is a privilege that drivers must approach with respect and responsibility.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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