We believed we would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed that controlling 2 tons of metal and plastic polymers at 60 mph requires anything less than the operator’s full attention.
However, they are out there in Wayne County and throughout the state.
Steve Herring, a News-Argus staff writer, reported Sunday that 1,400 crashes, resulting in eight deaths and 542 injuries, occurred in 2017 in North Carolina due to using electronic communication devices, such as cellphones, in the car. Another 648 crashes killed three and injured 236 when people were fiddling with navigation devices and DVD players.
It is the latter that seems the most unbelievable. While driving, people may be watching a movie, video or TV show and still believe they are in complete control of that 2-ton piece of equipment traveling at 60 mph.
A bill working its way through the state House of Representatives even offers a codicil for such extraordinarily lousy behavior. It will be illegal — if the legislation becomes law — to watch a video or movie or communicate by video on a wireless communication device.
Preventing drivers from taking their eyes off the road to watch a video is a portion of the Hands Free NC Act, which would make it illegal to use a cellphone — or other similar electronic devices — while operating a motor vehicle.
But is the proposed legislation the answer?
The American Psychological Association reporting as early as 2006 says no. When drivers talked on a cellphone, their reaction times to braking for a traffic light or safely decelerating a vehicle were significantly slower than when they were not talking on the cellphone, according to reports. Also, similar reports concluded whether the devices were hand-held or hands-free, no difference in the impairment to driving existed and therefore raised doubts 13 years ago about regulations that prohibit only hand-held cellphones. That’s what the Hands Free Act does.
What is the solution? Simple, people need to stop doing anything while driving except driving. Listening to music or audiobooks has not proven to cause any measurable amount of distraction. But the act of communicating, on cellphones and through navigation devices, is where the problems lie.
No law or fine is going to make a dent in cellphone use in a moving vehicle. We appreciate the efforts of lawmakers to create such legislation. But we know that enforcement will be spotty. Think about it: How much more can we expect overworked and underpaid police to do to keep people safe? A law, therefore, is not required, just personal responsibility on the part of the public.
So then, if a call comes in while behind the wheel, drivers should safely pull over and stop their cars or trucks before having a conversation. Period.