I would wager that every time you get in a vehicle to go somewhere, even if it’s just across town, you will see another driver spinning the steering wheel with one hand while cradling a cell phone with the other.
That sight frightens me more every day.
On Wednesday, while waiting for the signal to turn at a major intersection, such a driver on the street to my left accelerated to squeeze through the yellow light and wheeled around the corner. He never quit talking. I held my breath.
After coming away unscathed from several such encounters, you begin to agree with those who say something ought to be done. Count me in.
My habit lately has been to glance at other drivers’ eyes when I notice they are on a call. You can often tell by a distant stare that their mind is more focused on the phone conversation than traffic. I know many newer vehicles are equipped for hands-free calling. Why don’t more of us use it?
Who remembers when it was common for drivers to pull off the road to use a mobile phone? Who has time for that any more?
It’s even worse when it’s obvious that one — or both — of the driver’s thumbs are busy generating a text message on that phone.
In every biennial session of the Texas Legislature since 2009, state Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland has introduced bills that would ban texting while driving, but to no avail. This year, however, legislative leaders believe his measure has a better chance of passing, the Texas Tribune reported this week. Even passage, however, would not guarantee the measure becomes law. In 2011, both houses of the legislature approved a no-texting bill, but then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.
Some lawmakers have expressed opposition because it smacked of big government. Others worried that it could lead to unreasonable searches by law enforcement. Recently, one legislator said he changed his mind after his own close call on the highway.
About three dozen cities in Texas didn’t wait for state lawmakers to act. They have already passed ordinances banning texting while driving. Some also prohibit all handheld cell phone use by drivers.
Perhaps you don’t believe laws will change people’s habits, and it’s likely those habits wouldn’t change overnight. But such laws remind us to do what’s prudent and safe, if only because failing to comply could cost us cash. Remember when seatbelt use was rare, before laws were passed?
Gradually, objections to a texting-and-driving law are being overcome at the state Capitol. If it does become law, Texas would be the 47th state with a driving-while-texting law. If state lawmakers are playing catch-up with local cities, they are behind the curve nationally, as well. Had Craddick succeeded in 2009, Texas would have been the ninth state to pass such a law.
Attitudes were shifting even before 13 occupants of a New Braunfels church bus were killed in a collision near Uvalde on March 29. The driver of a pickup implicated in the crash, according to reports, acknowledged to a following motorist that he had been texting. That driver, only 20, was released from a hospital earlier this week, and prosecutors said they would await the results of a DPS investigation before deciding whether to charge him.
This is the type of tragedy that’s unsettling to anyone. It is certainly a tragedy that those directly affected will need time to deal with. The bus was transporting members of a senior citizens group who had attended a retreat, and they leave behind hundreds of relatives, friends and fellow congregants.
National news outlets covered the story, and under one online account, an understandably bitter individual admonished the young driver with, “I hope you realize you’re going to have to live with this the rest of your life.”
The church’s pastor, in a televised interview on a station in a major city, had a similar observation, but he expressed it in a caring, rather than condemning, manner.
First, he said, his church will minister to those close to those who died, because many are hurting. But the pastor also reminded us that the family of the driver of the pickup is hurting emotionally too, and stands in need the church’s love and prayers.
Whether said in anger or compassion, that young man will indeed carry this burden all of his days. No matter what good he does for society in years to come, the memory of that day on a country highway will remain with him.
More than a decade ago, I read an obituary for a man in his 60s, who died of natural causes. His biography reflected a life well lived. He served his community hundreds of miles from here in significant ways, and had children and grandchildren. It wasn’t mentioned, but it didn’t take a lot of research to connect the dots, and realize that as a college student, his carelessness had resulted in a traffic accident that took the life of a popular entertainer and others almost 50 years ago.
I wondered how he managed to cope. I can only imagine the anguish with which he lived.
People of faith across the nation will remember in their prayers this New Braunfels church and others affected by the fatal crash. As the church’s pastor so eloquently explained, we should remember as well the other driver. Whatever prosecutors may decide the legal system’s response should be, his life has been forever changed just as much as any other.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.