Imagine an invention that is so portable you can bring it with you anywhere you go, even in the car. It becomes so indispensible that everywhere you look people are absorbed by this technology. Soon they are using it while they are driving!
And then the accidents began to pile up. People were so absorbed by their magical devices that they took their eyes off the road, ran over pedestrians, crashed head-on into trees and other cars, storefronts and other immoveable objects. Pretty soon the fatalities were piling up and in no time at legislatures in 28 states were railing against the use of the indispensible technology while driving.
It is hard to imagine another activity in American life that has motivated so many politicians to act so swiftly. It hasn’t happened overnight and has taken much longer than its advocates probably imagined, but considering that EVERYONE has a cellphone and the ability to text while driving, it is remarkable how quickly the wave carried across America.
Part of the reason, of course, is that it is so obvious that it amounts to a political no-brainer. The Massachusetts House voted 150-1 in support of the ban. You won’t even get that vote on a legislative pay raise bill. Another major reason is that the mobile phone companies figured out a while ago that there was no rational reason to fight the ban so they got on board and made it easy for lawmakers.
This week I had to replace my Blackberry and had a brochure tucked inside the box from Verizon warning me to Drive Responsibly: “For your well being and the well being of those around you, you should consider turning your phone off and allowing calls to go to Voice Mail while you are driving,” the brochure implores.
And to think we used to call these devices “car phones.”
But the evidence is overwhelming that trying to squeeze one more message in before paying attention to the road will not end well. The US Department of Transportation says you are four times more likely to get into a serious crash if you are texting while driving. Just take your eyes off the road for five seconds to finish typing or reading a text at 55 miles an hour and you will travel more than the length of a football field without seeing where you just went.
So how did legislators manage such relatively fast reform on something that seemed certain to get the phone industry’s most determined opposition? Well, it didn’t hurt matters any that Congress proposed legislation last year that would lop off 25 percent of a state’s federal transportation funding if it didn’t pass a ban. And then Verizon jumped into the void and declared its support for such a ban when it was clear that it couldn’t stop it even if it wanted to.
Now, one wonders… why all the states aren’t on board (though nine states have partial bans)? Shouldn’t be much longer.