Bans on Texting: A Useless Effort

Upon my return from a deployment in Iraq in late 2008, I had to learn a new phenomenon—texting. With this started a new era of how people communicate with prospective dates, colleagues, friends, and family. But, what was to be unforeseen, was the ripple effect of what a mobile device could do to the average daily life, and, more specifically, texting and driving.

Nowadays, people text everywhere: while at the office, while engaged in conversation with other people, and right before going to sleep; however, most of these instances have not posed a serious threat yet. In contrast, texting and driving—supposedly—has. As of December 2013, the U.S. sends off about 153 billion texts per month. In response to such a staggering number, 44 States, including D.C., enacted a ban on texting and driving. Just this month, the Arizona Legislature decided to follow sister States by proposing its own ban on texting and driving. Striking my suspicion, I had to investigate the numbers myself to see if: (1) the bans are working, and (2) does it even matter.

First, it is worth noting that in my own observation of people I know in states that have a text ban they all indulge in one common thing—texting while driving. Thus, simply put, the bans seem to have little effect on whether a person will text while driving. A close parallel would be speeding. Though speed limit signs are posted nearly everywhere, and almost certainly everyone knows the consequence of speeding, nonetheless, we have speeders. Therefore, in a very simple logical conclusion, we can accurately say that texting bans have little to no effect on whether someone will actually commit the act, similar to speeding in a vehicle.

This brings us to the second point: it is nearly impossible to enforce. In speeding cases, there just aren’t enough police officers to be tagging all the people going 45 in a 35. Here, people speed because they know they can get away with it, and flowing with traffic helps secure immunity. In texting cases, like speeding, the number of police required to enforce a texting ban would be astronomical. Additionally, how will police officers know your texting, or using GPS in states that don’t have a full-use ban, or just messing with the radio, or falling asleep? Here, I find it extremely difficult for a police officer to ascertain any information at all from a driver simply looking downward.

Third, I don’t find the numbers persuasive at all. Currently, texting is categorized as distracted driving. The distracted driving umbrella includes: texting; using a cell phone or smartphone; eating and drinking; talking to passengers; grooming; reading, including maps; using a navigation system; watching a video, and; adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player. Thus, we actually have very little statistical data that is able to pin-out texting alone, leaving a lot of this to mere speculation.

Additionally, the numbers that are offered by both the FCC and the Government are compounded numbers meaning they are inflated. Here’s an example: 18% of all fatal crashes resulted from a distracted driver. Now, let’s dilute this a bit: (1) distracted driver means anything within the distracted driving umbrella previously mentioned, without any specificity to which element it could be; (2) 18% sounds like a high number, but in this example—similar to the one by the FCC—it says 18% of all fatal crashes. In Arizona, fatal crashes account for less than 1% of all accidents (777 of 107,000). Using the 18% number offered, I would have to find 18% of 777 to get the actual statistic used, which equals only 139 fatal crashes from distracted drivers. Thus, 139 fatal crashes resulting from distracted drivers out of the total 107,000 accidents is actually a fraction of 1%. Clearly, not an issue, but when spun correctly, the story can look impressive.

Overall, legislatures continue to make bans on texting and driving; however, likely this is merely just an act. Without the possibility to enforce the bans, and no meaningful way to curb people from using their phones these bans are simply useless. Moreover, the inflated numbers are just that—inflated. In a spurious attempt, the numbers show of a problem spiraling out of control. In reality, though, the real numbers are so low you would almost wonder why this was debated in the legislature of 44 States.