Put the cell phone down and place both hands on the steering wheel. Odds are the call is not all that important. Just hang up and drive.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says distracted drivers are to blame for nearly 6,000 highway deaths annually in this country. Driving distractions include eating, drinking, talking on cell phones, or sending and receiving text messages. It’s the latter distraction that has public safety officials most concerned.
Highway safety advocates and insurance carriers warn it is never a good idea to view or send text messages while driving. It seems strange that drivers would have to be warned against sending or reading text messages. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials nationwide have blamed a number of deadly accidents in the last few years on texting.
New federal rules specifically ban text messaging by truck and interstate bus drivers. If caught texting on the highway, commercial drivers can face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750. President Barack Obama has also urged states to get tough on distracted drivers, something that Tennessee lawmakers did in 2010 when they passed a law that carries a $50 fine and an additional $10 for court costs.
It is a non-moving offense, which means no points will be added to the offender’s driving record. That unfortunately makes it a weak law, and one that doesn’t do enough to serve the public good. Lawmakers should consider putting some teeth into the measure when they return to Nashville in January.