Distracted driving kills people. One would think that would be enough. But, sadly, in 44 states of the good old USA, you can blather away, cellphone to ear, and drive 60 miles per hour if you want. In 33 states, you can go ahead and text-message while you're at it, even doing both at the same time. Of course, even in those places where driving while phoning is illegal, it is tolerated: I live in one of them, and I can assure you that our law banning using hand-held devices while driving is the most flagrantly violated and unenforced prohibition ever.
Obviously, this is a serious public health and safety issue. But, if you need more, it's an environmental issue, too.
Oh yeah, driving while both talking on the phone and texting happens. Last month, a truck driver in Lockport, N.Y., crashed through a fence, clipped a house and plunged his flatbed into a swimming pool as he tried to talk on one cellphone and text on another, writes Jacquielynn Floyd in the Dallas Morning News. Floyd also reports that, earlier this year, a man in Utah pleaded guilty to negligent homicide resulting from an incident in which he killed two people while texting and driving, and continued to text away while he was being questioned by officers at the scene.
The reason this is an environmental issue as well as one of public health and safety is that, if our streets aren't safe and perceived as such, it will only be that much harder to convince people to leave their perceived fortresses-on-wheels and walk or bicycle instead.
Here are some facts:
*Approximately 5000 pedestrians and cyclists are killed in motor vehicle crashes every year (meaning over 50,000 walkers and bikers have died from vehicle accidents in the last decade).
*Cellphone users are four times more likely to be in an accident while driving than those who aren't using them, and truckers who phone and drive are six times more likely.
*Driving while talking on a cell phone is just as statistically dangerous as driving while drunk.
*Truckers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in an accident than those who don't.
*58% of Americans believe that talking on a cellphone while driving is "a very serious threat" to their safety.
*Nevertheless, 55% of that group reported talking on cellphones while driving in the last month.
*90% said that texting and driving was "a very serious threat," but 18% of those same people admitted texting while driving in the last month. (Half of drivers aged 16-24 are said to text while driving.)
How in the world are we going to have safe streets if we allow this to continue? We can't have walkable, environmentally sustainable communities without safe streets, and we can't have streets that are safe for walkers and cyclists unless we reduce some of the risks that are killing 50,000 of us every decade (along with lots of vehicle drivers and passengers). My fear, unfortunately, is that the genie may already be out of the bottle on this one. People think it's dangerous when others do it, but worth the risk to do it themselves.
Especially with transportation reform becoming a major priority for the environmental community, I believe that we have a stake in this issue.
(As usual, for those who are interested in more detail, links, and photos, I have a slightly longer version of this post over on my home site at NRDC.)
Kaid Benfield writes occasional "Village Green" commentary on DailyKos and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard site. For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page.