To the editor:
Two letters begged readers to take the pledge not to text while driving. They tell us things like, “There is nothing more tragic than a death caused by texting while driving.” Really? We can’t imagine bigger tragedies? Let’s use those smartphones (while parked, of course) to find innumerable daily events that are indeed “more tragic.”
They tell us “distracted driving” can be dangerous but quickly go after the cellphone, a clear bait-and-switch. Most studies that people cite don’t just say “texting.” They point to all forms of distracted driving, including eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, and adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player. (Side note: The car radio was deemed a dangerous distraction in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s a good thing that we got rid of them.) These studies do not (and often cannot) distinguish among these different activities to the degree that makes texting the boogeyman that we’re pretending it to be. Individually and culturally, we embrace all these other distracting activities (driving with others, eating, playing with the radio, even using our GPS on our cellphones) and are left asking, “But texting — that’s the killer?”
Getting people to take a pledge is a nice gesture, but such pledges are born for failure. Pledging works best(when it does actually work) when it’s permanently abstaining (e.g. alcohol, smoking, drugs). Like virginity pledges, a texting-while-driving pledge makes people have to navigate a complex decision process repeatedly. In both situations, we’re saying that in some situations, it’s OK to text (or have sex), and in others it’s not. That’s just not a clear algorithm for people to internalize.
This is not to justify texting while driving; it’s a critique of the poor argument we’re trying to make against texting alone. If we were honestly worried about the tragedies of distracted driving, then eliminating all distractions would be the focus, not just texting. But we don’t want to listen to that argument — we want to listen to our car radios, right?