However, I don’t think the law has played out in the way that was intended. What I’ve noticed, especially in the past month or so, is that people are still texting while driving.They’re not openly texting, though. What they’re doing is holding the phone down low so that no one can tell that they are texting (in theory). Instead of having their eyes half on the road, they are completely ignoring everything around them except what is down below the steering wheel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in the past month, but it has to be close to a dozen.
I also had an experience about a month ago involving a bicyclist. I drove through West Campus, an area near UT where many students live. There was a college-aged man riding a bicycle the wrong way on a one way street. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, and he was texting while riding one-handed. His eyes definitely weren’t on the road. Aside from nominating himself for a Darwin Award, this young man was clearly in violation of the new hands free law.
I’m not sure how one goes about solving this problem. Clearly the fines and other results of the law are not threatening to many people. Even scarier is that the people violating the no-texting law are not being realistic about the potential for life destroying accidents. In 2011, 23% of accidents involved cell phones. Texting while driving makes one 23 times more likely to have an accident. Other statistics demonstrate that texting while driving is six times more likely than drunk driving to cause an accident. Eleven teens die every day due to texting while driving accidents; 21% of teens involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. In actual numbers, “3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver” and “an additional, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012.” Yet somehow those scary statistics aren’t enough to convince people to stop texting and driving. Why is it that our society has become so obsessed with instant communication that we can’t even wait ten or fifteen or even sixty minutes until our next stop in order to reply? Why do we have to respond immediately even at the threat of loss of life and limb? From the view of someone who is very outside the mainstream, I am puzzled by how people let their cell phones rule their lives to an unhealthy extent.
I’m not sure what it is going to take for society to change its behaviors, but I hope it happens soon. I am dismayed by how little positive impact the new laws have had in Austin, at least from an informal survey of what I see in driving around town.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC