Crashing into texting and driving hysteria

By Kyle Melinn

I don’t know what the big deal is these days about texting and driving. Shoot, I’m doing it right now just fine.

It’s just me and this iPhone barreling down Interstate 96 in the ol’ Saturn. Speedometer reads 70. XM is on 87.

For a multi-tasker like me living in a multi-tasker world this just isn’t a big deal.

My eyes are on the road. I just passed mile marker 59. I’m passing some cars but I’m mostly getting passed by folks exceeding the speed limit — which is against the law, by the way.

Punching these little keys is making me drive slower, actually. Safer really. I’d be going 80 like that van that blew by me a second ago if I wasn’t doing this.

Hey, I know my limits.

It snowed pretty good a minute ago. I put the iPhone down until I’ve passed through it. I’m not stupid. My life isn’t worth a City Pulse column. But if all I see in front of me is a long strip of black top, I’ll glance down to make sure my thumb is finding the right letter.

Peoples’ eyes leave the road all the time. Grab that French fry. Change that song. Check the hair. Find the kid’s toy. Answer the phone. Don’t you dare plead not guilty.

Everybody wants to legislate safety. But is what I’m doing unsafe? My mind is alert. I’m following the rules of the road.

I’m not tailgating. I’m not swerving. I’m not cutting someone off. In fact, at this moment I’m not hurting or putting any one at risk because there’s no one else out here with me.

If I were to cause an accident by not paying attention, I’d be charged with careless driving. The kid who ran into my rear end a few years ago was lost, by the way, not texting. The guy who broadsided Bridget seven years ago was tired. He couldn’t see the red light from glare of the morning sun.

I just pulled off the exit ramp. There’s a school zone sign. Light turned yellow. I’m stopping. When that Grand Prix starts moving, I will too.

I’m not the least bit nervous. Not like when I was driving through Star Wars back there. That was a bit unnerving.

I understand the hubbub about people texting and driving. I do. But there is no end to what you could legislate to demand people pay attention to the road.

What about the guy who I saw reading the newspaper this weekend from behind the wheel? Dialing a phone? Reading a map?

I’m out of the car now. I’m surfing the Web for real world evidence that shows texting and driving caused X number of accidents and X number of deaths. I’m not finding it.

In fact, there isn’t a lot of scientific driving data from the road (not a test track) that substantiates the texting driving = accident formula.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says distracted drivers account for almost 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes in the United States. Distracted? That’s lighting a cigarette, watching the cute blonde in the other car, staring at the GPS system, and digging a Kleenex out of the glove box.

Yes, there are isolated stories, particularly with new drivers. I’ve read them. They’re horrible. But there are isolated stories for everything.

An 88-year-old man ran over and killed his 4-year-old niece in Massachusetts this summer. Should we ban anyone 88 and older from driving?

The texting while driving hysteria now has gripped our state Legislature. Lawmakers want to make it a $100 fine if you’re pulled over doing something else.

It’s a generational disconnect between moms and dads who wouldn’t dream of turning on a cell phone in the car and Gen Xers and Gen Yers who are programmed to juggle three, four different activities at the same time.

We text and drive because it’s an extension of the world we live in. We want to stay ahead. Stay informed. Stay connected. Everything is right now.

I’m not saying that’s good. It’s just the way it is.

A $100 fine isn’t going to change that. A recent Reuters story quotes a study that shows that state laws banning texters don’t work. Younger drivers still do it.

The message should be to address all distractions. We should be promoting safe driving from everybody. Everyone should be paying attention to what they’re doing. That can be done without digging into the pocket of those who engaged in one distraction.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at