Oprah says Dnt Txt N Drv, so just Dnt
Decrying the use of electronic devices while driving — whether for texting or conversation — has become the latest cause celebre.
The most powerful figure to sign on to this cause has been Oprah Winfrey, who took to the airwaves Friday to scare people straight on the issue of distracted driving, placing particular focus on texting. Earlier, she penned a blunt and sobering commentary for The New York Times headlined Dnt Text N Drv.
She certainly has the experts to back her up; the federal government says 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008.
Although studies are unclear about the relative dangers of different behind-the-wheel distractions — texting vs. eating vs. talking with passengers vs. putting on makeup, etc. — nearly everyone on the road can describe a close call they've had dodging a distracted driver.
Texting pulls together the deadly trifecta of distractions cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (taking your mind off what you're doing).
Laws governing the use of cell phones while driving still vary widely by jurisdiction. Hawai'i has moved at a county-by-county pace, with Maui the last holdout.
To its credit, the Honolulu Police Department has pursued enforcement steadily since the O'ahu ban was enacted last July. Monthly counts show citations averaging around 300 to 500 most months.
Maj. Thomas Nitta of the HPD Traffic Division said police gave drivers time to become informed of the new ordinance through educational outreach before hitting them with their first crackdown in October, when 730 tickets were issued. In March, police demolished that record by handing out 1,435.
Nitta said police have to balance cell phone enforcement with holding the line in other concerns — O'ahu's perennial speeding problem topping the list. But law enforcement authorities must ramp up the public education again.
Ultimately, it's up to each of us to be responsible citizens and to break ourselves of the powerful texting/talking addiction behind the wheel. Now that Oprah has issued her Dnt Txt N Drv directive, maybe more people will actually put away the phone.