When texting kills, Britain takes it seriously. A recent poll by the New York Times suggests that Americans would like to do the same.
Britain has a nationwide ban on texting while driving, with a law that considers it to be a serious aggravating factor in “death by dangerous driving.” The offense is considered to be the same causing death by drinking and driving, and the law recommends a sentence of anywhere from four to seven years in prison. The recent story of the death of Victoria McBryde has only served to raise awareness of the seriousness of the offense.
Ms. McBryde was sitting in her car, which was pulled over to the side of the road because it had broken down, when Phillipa Curtis plowed her Peugeot into Ms. McBryde’s parked Fiat. Ms. Curtis’ phone was thrown from the car and recovered by a witness at the scene. The evidence in that phone was enough to land Ms. Curtis in a high-security women’s prison for 21 months. The phone showed that about two dozen texts had been exchanged between Ms. Curtis and several of her friends in the last hour before the accident, one of them–yet unopened–was received just minutes before the crash.
Here in the United States, there is no national ban on text messaging while driving. Only fourteen states currently have bans, though studies have repeatedly shown that texting while driving can actually be more dangerous than drunk driving. Several states, including California, have bans on talking on a hand held cell phone, though studies show that a phone call is dangerously distracting whether it is hand held or hands-free. Why are all the bans only half complete? To really keep people safe, shouldn’t all states ban texting? And shouldn’t they ban all phone calls–whether they’re hand held or hands-free?
The poll by the New York Times suggests that Americans are ready to accept bans on technology if it will keep them safe, at least in the case of text messaging. In fact, 97 percent of Americans said they would support a complete ban on texting while driving. Fifty percent of them said that punishments for the offense should be the same as those for drunk driving–like they are in Britain. Banning these inherently dangerous activities is a good step in the right direction.
Of course, the problem might not lie in whether or not an activity is banned, but rather on whether or not people obey the law. Sometimes, it’s hard to get even those in the most high profile of places to follow the bans.