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State needs to make distracted driving illegal

POSTED: February 1, 2010 11:50 a.m.
A bill in the Georgia legislature proposing a ban on using a cell phone to send text messages while driving has been sent back to the drawing board due to concerns over how it would be enforced, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported earlier this week.
How, for instance, would a police officer know whether a driver was texting or making a phone call?
That’s a valid question. But it misses a greater point.
Most folks admit that driving while gabbing on a cell phone is not a good idea, yet many obviously continue to do it. Drivers also continue to eat, read, groom or any number of other unsafe activities while behind the wheel.
So rather than split hairs or worry about technicalities, Georgia needs to take a wider view of the problem caused by drivers who endanger others while driving distracted.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which sees the problem as so widespread it now has a website called distraction.gov, distracted driving is defined as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.”
There are three types of distractions — visual, or those which cause you to take your eyes off the road; manual, or those which cause you to take your hands off the wheel; and cognitive, or those which cause you to take your mind off what you’re doing.
Texting is considered the worst because it involves all three types of distraction, but the USDOT lists a number of others, from talking on a cell phone to eating or drinking to changing radio stations.
And the number of those harmed by such activities is  eye-opening. The USDOT reports that in 2008 alone 5,870 people were killed and another 515,000 were injured in wrecks caused by distracted drivers.
Of course, no legislation can eliminate every distraction.
That doesn’t mean the state should give up striving to better educate residents on the dangers of distracted driving. Better driver training and tougher tests would help. At the same time, Georgia should also use fines and punishment to make life tougher on those who intentionally distract themselves.  
Driving, after all, isn’t a right. It’s merely a privilege. It’s also a matter of trust. We have to be able to trust that the thousands of others we share the road with each day are responsible, safe drivers. They have to be able to trust that we are the same, because nothing most of us do on a daily basis is more dangerous than getting behind the wheel.
The statistics back that up. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 42,500 people lost their lives in crashes each year from 2002-2007.
 

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