Georgia’s ban on texting-while-driving went into effect more than two years ago, threatening to fine drivers $150 if caught texting behind the wheel. Reports show the law is severely under-policed. Roughly 1,300 citations have been issued since the law’s enactment, fewer than 50 per month statewide and less than two per day. Things couldn’t be more different in New Jersey, a state that doesn’t just ban texting, but prohibits drivers from using a handheld cell phone. A different report shows that New Jersey issues 7,600 cell-phone-related traffic tickets every month. School of Public Policy Assistant Professor Robert Rosenberger says the biggest problem of under-policing the law is that it sends the wrong message to Georgia drivers.
The routine failure to enforce anti-texting regulations could imply to drivers that texting-while-driving is not a major concern. This is a big mistake. As the AJC reports, 3,840 traffic accidents in Georgia last year were attributable to cell-phone-related distraction. In my view, an important topic is the impressions of the dangers of distracted driving that are provided by science, law enforcement, and the larger public discussion. It’s important because the task of convincing drivers that cell phones are dangerous has proven to be very difficult. There are of several factors that contribute to this difficulty. For instance, cell phones provide an appealing alternative to the boredom of the road, while some drivers have come to rely on using the phone while driving as a part of their workday routine.
But, in my view, the main difficulty is that we all have the tendency to think that it is only other drivers – and not ourselves – who are impaired by the phone. That is, we tend to recognize that cell phones transform others into poor drivers, but also tend to think that we are each ourselves an individual exception to that rule. Thus, one of the main reasons that enforcement of anti-texting regulations is so important is that it conveys a strong and clear message that cell phone usage while behind the wheel is dangerous.
According to the Action News report, State Senator Horacena Tate intends to propose a ban on all handheld cell phone usage while driving in Georgia. As shown in the video, this would provide police officers with the tools needed to enforce the anti-texting regulations. It would also enable them to combat the important issue of handheld phone conversation. This is an important start.
However, more needs to be done to address a different cell-phone-related driver distraction: hands-free models. More than a decade of research has now shown that hands-free alternatives are no less distracting to drivers than handheld phones. Thus, placing restrictions on only handheld phones would address only part of the matter. And there is again the problem of implications: the outlaw of only handheld phones could send the implication that hands-free alternatives are safe when they are actually just as dangerous.
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