Texting and driving ban making no mark

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By Andrew Dinsmoor, Senior Staff Writer

Cell phone distractions account for an estimated 1.6 million automobile accidents annually, according to the National Safety Council. That’s why Iowa and Nebraska initiated a “texting while driving” ban in July 2010. However, since the start of the ban fewer than 160 tickets or warnings have been written in Iowa and Nebraska, according to the Omaha World-Herald. 

In psychology, we learn that a human only has a certain amount of “mental gasoline” at a given instance, and, when multi-tasking, we are simply dividing up our mental fuel and using it in small portions across each task. To me, multi-tasking is a fad, a false idea. We function best when we pay full attention to what we’re doing. Attempting several activities at once is like taking one tank of gas and using it to fuel four cars – they’re all going to hit empty pretty quickly, and may not even reach their destinations. This is how I think about texting while driving. It can’t be done, at least not well.

Currently, texting while driving is only a secondary offense in Nebraska. This means a police officer can’t pull you over for texting, but if he or she pulls you over for a more severe infraction, he or she can ticket you for texting violations. The situation is similar to Nebraska’s seat belt law: a driver can only be cited for not wearing a seat belt when charged with another traffic violation, according to the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. Is this “secondary offense” approach effective?

So far, it looks like the answer is no. Nebraska needs to make texting while driving a primary offense. If a cop sees you behind the wheel, looking down at your phone smiling at your friend’s funny text, he or she should have the power to pull you over.

Picture this: You’re driving down Dodge Street, and if you want to make it onto the expressway, so you need to merge right. You’re thinking about your day, your chemistry homework, your girlfriend. You’ve got about 10 more seconds until you have to signal and get over, so you activate your right blinker. Your phone vibrates – your girlfriend, and she’s too important to wait eight seconds for your reply. Looking down at your phone, you’re thinking of a witty response to her “What’s up?” All the while, you’re drifting right, and there’s a concrete median dividing Dodge and the expressway.

You’ve come up with the perfect response: “I’m missin’ you is what I’m doin’ ;).” You look up at the road and it’s too late. Your car slams into the concrete. You’re unconscious, bleeding. You might never see the world again, but at least you sent that text.

The above scene isn’t entirely hypothetical. It’s based on personal experience — a day when I was texting behind the wheel and looked up to find myself barreling toward a concrete median at 55 mph. Luckily, I steered out of the way. I learned my lesson, but it shouldn’t take an extreme experience like this to convince people to stop texting and driving.

“I still see people not doing anything to hide texting – they’re texting with their phone in the center of the steering wheel in plain sight,” Fred Zwonechek, head of Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, said to the Omaha World-Herald. “They’re oblivious to almost everyone, including law enforcement.”

Law enforcement must have the ability to pull a driver over for texting. Texting leads to car accidents. Accidents lead to deaths. This is as serious as drunk driving, and can be just as lethal.

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