Its Time to Pass Tough Laws to Prohibit Distracted Driving

We have become a distracted society, constantly drawn to our smartphones and tablets to stay up to the minute with anything that interests us. We are so accustomed to multi-tasking that we've actually convinced ourselves that we can successfully juggle a barrage of information coming at us from all directions without negative consequences. This couldn't be further from the truth, especially when it comes to distracted driving.

Driving a car is a daily activity for most of us, and so familiar that we no longer give it our undivided attention when we get behind the wheel. We've gone from managing simple distractions such as tuning the radio to writing emails, searching the Internet, conducting phone conversations and texting while we drive -- and we've deluded ourselves into thinking that we've got all of that activity safely under control. Law enforcement sees the tragic consequences of our reckless behavior every day in serious injury and fatality crashes caused by distracted driving.

It's impossible to understand why legislators are hesitant to pass the tough laws to prohibit the use of electronic communication devices by drivers. Virginia's distracted driving law was amended in 2013 to make it a primary enforcement law, and to increase the fines when a driver convicted of reckless driving also is found to be texting while driving. However, the law has a Swiss cheese quality, with numerous exceptions and exemptions to allow phone calls and GPS manipulation. As such, there are inherent difficulties in enforcing the law, because violations can be difficult to detect. It does not deter our officers from enforcing the law, because the end goal is to protect us from the reckless behavior of others. We've become so accustomed, or perhaps addicted, to the convenience of immediate communications that we can't quite resist the temptation to answer that phone call or text message. The only real legislative solution to the dangers posed by distracted driving is a complete prohibition on the use of a phone, except in the most extreme emergencies.

Public opinion polls overwhelmingly show support for restrictive laws on distracted driving. That's why it's shocking that so many drivers insist on talking or texting, and we all see it every day -- unless, of course, we're not paying attention to other drivers because we're on the phone. We don't want others to drive distracted, but we're convinced that we can manage a quick phone call or a text message without creating a risk for ourselves or others. But we can't rely just on stricter laws or police enforcement to change the dangerous behavior of distracted drivers. Some of the worst offenders are adults who are modeling irresponsible behavior for the children who watch their every move. As parents, we need to be better role models for our children and give our full attention to driving -- delivering a lesson that we hope will be remembered when they become drivers.

It's time to accept the fact that all of us need to put the phone down and give our total attention to the serious, high risk activity called driving. No matter how experienced we are at driving, a crash happens in an instant and challenges even the most masterful driver to react expediently. We need to put our full attention back into one of the riskiest things we do every day -- getting behind the wheel of a car.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.

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