, Salem, MA


November 29, 2012

Column: We need a solid solution to distracted driving


Only recently, I was forced to slam on my brakes and swerve to miss a young man who had begun crossing the street with his cellphone tightly held in one hand, head down, with his thumbs jumping over the keyboard. He was unaware that he had stepped off the curb while the light was against him. Had I been distracted by another vehicle or speeding at the time, I hate to think of the consequences.

What do we do about this? There may not be a solid solution. State after state have passed laws against driving while on a cellphone, some have even banned hands-free use, arguing that it is a distraction. Not enough have made texting illegal, although that seems preposterous given the clear danger.

The problem, of course, is that these laws are generally ignored and extraordinarily difficult to enforce, particularly if the driver was not speeding or otherwise driving recklessly enough to attract the attention of police. Besides, much of the urban traffic control today has been ceded to cameras and other electronic devices because of budget pressures. Police are too busy with other problems and the cameras only check speed and red-light obedience. In addition, they are cheap ways of boosting revenue.

How then can we deal with this increasingly difficult problem? How can we prevent what should be utterly preventable with a little common sense that tells us in today’s crowded world we have to be aware of what is around us? How can we convince those who walk or jog with their ears full of music that their lack of awareness to the immediate environment makes them more vulnerable to tragedy? There may be no general solution.

Perhaps we can save some lives if we begin educating youngsters, many of whom have these devices at an early age, as part of our mandatory school curriculums. Why not make fines enormously high for violation of the cellphone ban while driving? We certainly have done that for those who refused to obey the seat belt laws. There might even be a way that use of a handheld cellphone while driving could automatically trigger some device that loudly proclaims this person is a hazard — maybe a light that warns other vehicles to stay away and alerts the police.

Sounds silly doesn’t it? But maybe the school principal and my brother would still be alive.


Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at

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