Last week’s newsletter in which we published responses to the prior week’s topic (#251: Usefulness Takes a Backseat to Technology and the Law) sparked yet another constructive exchange with a longtime member from New York. We’ve included it here, along with Gary Biller’s response as a way to further clarify our position on the use of handheld devices while driving. And while the member’s original letter was fairly challenging, in the end, we realized our positions synced up quite well.
I have to agree wholeheartedly with Mark H., Utah. I was somewhat shocked when I read your article which made it seem as if you were in favor of texting, calling, etc. while driving. Commerce has been going on for centuries without the benefit of instant access. Of course, things are constantly changing and that’s usually a good thing, mobile devices are an important resource. However, there’s NO excuse for being so lazy you can’t pull over or stop at the next parking area to conduct your business. The world will not come to an end if you don’t answer your calls immediately.
I have decades of driving experience in all conditions and am very concerned about the increase in distracted driving. I believe that it’s increasingly necessary to stay alert and concentrate on the road to avoid situations caused by other people’s careless behavior. Any mobile device increases distractions and should not be allowed, even hands-free, except when the vehicle is stationary. When a driver is using one his mind is not sufficiently on his driving. When that is added to all the other distractions the accident potential is greatly increased.
I have been a member since the CCRTL days and am usually completely supportive of your positions on the various issues. We motorists have a lot to thank you for, but I’m extremely disappointed and somewhat surprised with your attitude toward this issue.
Anna W., New York
Thank you for writing. The handheld (or even hands-free) use of electronic devices while driving is perhaps the most split position among our membership. That is why we like to elicit (and publish) different viewpoints on the topic.
The NMA does not recommend texting while driving. Anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road for extended seconds is not safe. By the same token, we do not support singling out specific behaviors for special laws. Distracted driving is distracted driving, regardless of whether the cause was talking to a passenger, fiddling with the GPS or climate controls, or any number of other activities that can cause a driver to lose focus on the safe operation of his/her vehicle.
The other aspect of our position is opposition to preemptive enforcement action when there has been no indication that the driver is not in control of the vehicle. If a vehicle is observed weaving, tailgating, or otherwise putting others on the road in danger, that driver should be pulled over and ticketed. But charging someone because of a behavior that could lead to an accident without any outward signs that the vehicle is not being operated responsibly is wrong in our view.
At the heart of the matter is that each driver has a different tolerance to distraction. Some can’t handle any while others can listen to an audiobook or talk hands-free on a phone without adversely affecting how they operate their car. That goes back to the early days when Jim Baxter founded the CCRTL/NMA.
Again, thank you for sharing your opinions and for being a member of our organization throughout the years.
National Motorists Association
Thank you for your intelligent response. I agree with most of your comments, especially regarding different tolerances to distraction. It would be ideal if laws could be applied depending on the competence of the driver, but that’s obviously not practical. Thus laws tend to err on the side of caution, which is better than nothing. (There are other less reasonable motives for legislation as we both know. That’s why your organization is so useful!) I may be unlucky in where I live, but incompetent drivers seem to be in the majority. To look on the bright side, my defensive driving skills have developed to a very high level!