Pull over to answer that text message

Published 11:56pm Saturday, January 26, 2013

If you see me pulled over on the side of the road soon, don’t call for help. I’m likely just trying to prove a point.

Last week after seeing a member of the U.S. Postal Service driving across Canal Street in her special right-hand drive truck, it occurred to me that something has to give.

We’ve all heard of the huge financial problems the USPS has, but my concern isn’t one of fiscal floatation, but one of safety.

The uniformed postal delivery person was in the middle of an intersection when I spotted her.

The low window — made for easy mailbox reaching — gave her secret away. With a telephone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, apparently she was committing the most common and among the most dangerous practices of the modern world — texting while driving.

Increasingly, however, referring to the problem as merely “texting” may not be as accurate. It’s more appropriate to refer to it as distracted driving since increasingly people are using phones to seek directions, browse social media or listen to music.

Let’s not be too harsh on the USPS driver. The problem has become so commonplace that it’s easy to spot all kinds of folks doing it, even people who should know better.

Personally, I’ve seen Natchez Police Department officers texting and Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies as well.

I’ve texted while driving, too. It’s just too tempting for our human brains.

It’s like many other dangerous things. We think: I’m better than the average person. I can do this and not make a mistake while driving.

But texting accidents happen all the time.

U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show just how bad the practice has become.

In 2011, the DOT reports that more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver. In a country of a few hundred million people that doesn’t seem particularly high until you realize nearly 400,000 people in America were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.

Again, it’s one of those things that we think we’re smart enough and skilled enough to overcome.

Statistics show sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field.

Another study reports that if you use a cell phone while driving, you’re four times more likely to get a serious crash.

It’s a big problem, and it’s pervasive.

Most people realize something needs to be done. A Nationwide Insurance survey suggested 8 in 10 drivers support legal restrictions on cell phone use while driving.

As Americans, though, we hate being told what to do. So while legislation may help, enforcement will be a challenge, as most cars aren’t built with low windows like the postal service delivery truck.

Many people have become adept at holding their phones low enough to make it not as visible, but the distraction remains.

The solution is likely two-fold. Acknowledging the problem and getting the message of just how dangerous the practice is could be the best first step.

Second, a combination of technology — a number of apps have been developed already to disable phones while driving — and a determination to simply end the practice.

For me that means I may ignore texts while driving or simply pull over and respond.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.