Local & State Voices

My family wants to save yours from texting and driving

Charlotte, you’re killing me. And each other.

The latest report from the Charlotte Department of Transportation reveals that our city had 31,000 car crashes last year – up nearly 10 percent from the previous year. The leading cause was no surprise: “Inattention/Distraction” (e.g., cellphones), accounting for at least one in every five crashes.

I haven’t conducted any formal studies, but what I’m witnessing every day is abhorrent. Just stand at a busy street corner and watch the drivers go by. You’ll see at least half of them with their eyes (and at least one hand) on their phones, instead of on the road and wheel. It’s not just a teenager thing; drivers of ALL ages seemingly can’t resist multitasking.

You might as well all be drunk. Actually, what you’re doing is worse. The folks at Car and Driver magazine determined that drunk drivers require four extra feet of reaction time to hit the brake, whereas drivers reading an email needed an extra 36 feet and drivers sending a text needed 70. Bring an oncoming texting driver into the equation, and now you’ll need an extra 140 feet.

Studies have clearly shown that phone-distracted drivers are significantly more dangerous, so why don’t we get as angry about them as we do about drunk drivers? It’s because we are the perpetrators. We can’t control our addiction to instant information, so when we hear that mid-drive ping, we tell ourselves “I can handle this” in the same way that the bar patron, four drinks in, is convinced he can get home safely.

Sure, maybe you’ll get home without an accident this time. And next time. Maybe. That’s what your ego would like you to believe, anyway.

But when you pick up your phone while driving and move your eyes to the screen, you’re not just missing all the things on the road that require your attention. Please realize that you’re also surrounded by sons and daughters, moms and dads, husbands and wives, grandparents and friends. You aren’t just on the road with other cars.

Hate to break it to you, but some of them are your own family. And guess what? When they get on the road these days, three-ton vehicles are barreling past while the drivers are liking a Facebook meme about Cam Newton.

North Carolina needs to get serious about our distracted driving epidemic and follow the example of states like Arkansas, North Dakota and Washington. We need to send legislation to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk that takes a much tougher approach – both in terms of definition, fines and points. Penalties must reflect the seriousness of the violation; they need to be steep enough to finally get North Carolinians thinking, “Actually, I don’t need to know who just sent me that text.” We also need to invest further in proven behavior-changing mechanisms, like public education and visual enforcement.

In the Olin house, this no-texting-while-driving thing is a family affair. My wife generally leads the charge with copious honking and yelling. Our five-year-old is even in on the action, often exhibiting more common sense than adults. “Daddy, look, that woman is texting and driving! Get her!”

In an attempt to remind others and keep ourselves accountable, our license plate displays a simple appeal: NOTEXTNG. The “I” is missing because it exceeded character limitations. But you have no limitations on the character you can show to your fellow citizens on the road. You’re taking our lives into your hands, so keep your hands on the wheel.