Some behaviors are harder to control than others. Despite increasingly harsh penalties for DUI, drinking and driving still kills more than 10,000 people every year. Part of the problem is that many people do not believe they will be caught driving drunk. Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates that drivers who are arrested for DUI have driven drunk 80 times before getting caught. The problems surrounding distracted driving are even more severe. Not only do people not fear getting caught, many refuse to recognize the danger of the behavior in the first place.
Distracted driving does not match the death toll of drunk driving. Still, it kills more than 3,000 people every year. One form of distracted driving, texting behind the wheel, has inspired many states to pass laws banning the practice. The laws vary in the authority given to law enforcement to catch and punish offenders. Taken as a whole, the laws have not been effective at deterring people from distracted driving. The number of fatalities has continued to rise even as states have moved to prevent texting deaths.
Publicity campaigns are underway to help demonstrate the serious consequences of distracted driving. Similar campaigns were effective in swaying public opinion against drunk driving. As with drunk driving, simply changing the minds of the public at large will not be enough. The laws must leave people with the belief that they will get caught and that the benefit of using the cell phone to read or send a text is not worth the risk. Laws that do not allow police to pull someone over for suspected cell phone use will likely have no impact. At present, the only people who are severely penalized for texting and driving are those who kill someone in an accident because they couldn’t put their phones down.
Source: Huffington Post, “We Need to Consider Stronger Laws on Cellphone Use While Driving” by Brad Stulberg, 27 October 2014