Why aren’t people mad about distracted driving?

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Distracted driving!

I’m mad! It is time to do something about a scourge on our roads — People using their smartphones while driving.

I’m referring to texting and driving, telephone talking and driving, social media posting and driving, emailing and driving. Whatever you’re doing on your phone while driving: Stop it!

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I remember years ago mothers banded together to stop drunk drivers and called their organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving — MADD! for short.

They were mad, indeed, and as a result stiffer fines were enacted for driving drunk, the legal limit for blood alcohol content was lowered, the legal age for drinking beer was even increased.

Not long after the mothers got MADD! fewer people died of drunk driving accidents, and people who chose to drink and drive suffered the consequences of stiff penalties, including losing their driving privileges, heavy fines, having to go through educational programs and paying stiffer insurance fees.

All of those penalties are still in place. Granted, people still drink and drive and people still die due to people drinking and driving. However, the law is in force. Law enforcement officers routinely conduct roadblocks to check for drunk drivers, and stiff penalties put a bite behind the law. Drink and drive and you will pay the consequences.

Not for smartphone usage, though!

Where is the outcry? Where are the mad mothers? Why don’t law enforcement officials punish smartphone drivers? Where is Ralph Nader when we actually need him?

Perhaps they are all too busy playing on their smartphones to notice the crisis at hand.

Meanwhile, while at any intersection you stop at, instead of looking at your phone, watch the cars that pass by. The drivers are more than likely doing something with their smartphones, which is all the more reason you should be paying attention to what they are doing. Don’t trust that they are paying attention to what you’re doing.

It’s called defensive driving, a thing they used to make drivers learn before they got their driver’s licenses.

As we are distracted by our shiny smartphones, people are being killed and maimed by distracted drivers.

Yes, the state supposedly has a law in place to punish people who text and drive but I’ve never heard of that law being enforced. And, even if it were enforced, a first offense carries only a $100 fine.

Law enforcement officers say the law is virtually impossible to enforce because, as the law is written, holding a cellphone and talking on a cellphone are not illegal, only texting and emailing are illegal.

If a law enforcement officer pulls someone over who appears to be texting while driving, the driver can easily wrangle out of it by saying they were just making a phone call which isn’t banned by the state law.

A Mississippi Today story last year cited a study that said Mississippi is the deadliest state in which to drive a car with 685 fatal automobile accidents in 2017, which makes Mississippi 28% more deadly for automobile users than the second most deadly state of Wisconsin.

The same Mississippi Today story said Mississippi has one of the lowest rates in the nation for enforcing bans against texting and driving.

Drivers make enough mistakes without being distracted by texts, phone calls, impaired driving, etc. It is time for the state to step up and fix the abysmal anti-texting law, which needs to be rewritten to ban any handheld device usage.

The new law should have penalties that are at least as stiff as those for drinking and driving.

Until lawmakers do something about the law, however, put your smartphones down while you are driving.

Driving is a privilege, not a right, and the life you save could be your own.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540.