On September 30, 2010, the new, highly publicised Massachusetts law banning texting while driving takes effect. The same law bans any cell phone use while driving for those under 18 except for certain emergency calls, generally 9-1-1 calls for police or medical assistance.
Everyone agrees that texting while driving is dangerous. If you look at your phone for three seconds to read or compose a text message while you are driving on the highway at 65 mph, you travel the length of a football field without looking at the road. Of course the same is true for checking out who is calling you on the cell phone or scrolling through your contacts list to make a call, or entering a phone number to call, none of which seem to be prohibited by this new law.
The Governor's press release makes it seem like we can expect much safer roads now. "Without question, this new law will save lives on our roadways," the Governor is quoted as saying. On the other hand, a new study released today by the insurance industry shows that such bans have no effect on crash statistics, and seem to have no effect on how much people text behind the wheel. The Boston Globe reports that texters may be causing more accidents by holding the phone down near the seat to avoid detection, and that police departments are talking about getting SUVs so they can ride higher and look down into potential suspects' cars. Of course if it's the police car driver who is doing the looking, that is pretty unsafe, too.
Some have suggested that parents have to set an example and stop using cell phones -- texting or talking -- if they expect their children to obey the law, and that they have to talk to their children about the dangers of distracted driving. Maybe the "shotgun texter," a friend in the passenger seat who will text for the driver, will become as popular as the "designated driver," who stays sober and drives his drinking friends where they need to go. It seems that education may be the best way to fight texting while driving, and that the new law may be more important as an expression of what is the right way to behave than as a means to prosecute violators.