Our Opinion: Making the call on texting while driving

News Tribune editorial

Driving is a privilege and a responsibility.

It is neither a right nor a self-absorbed pursuit.

When a driver sets a vehicle in motion, the safety of others — passengers, pedestrians, other motorists — must be a priority.

Vehicle weights range from 3,000-4,500 pounds for compact cars to 7,500-12,000 pounds for full-size pickups and SUVs, according to autos.com.

A driver, essentially, is navigating a potentially dangerous and deadly vehicle among others, frequently on congested roads or in populated communities.

Hazards abound, even under the best of circumstances.

Distracted and impaired driving undermine safety. They increase the chances of accidents, which can result in inconvenience, lost time and money, injuries and death.

We’re not telling our readers anything they don’t already know.

But knowing it hasn’t stopped distracted and impaired driving.

A number of states, including Missouri, have initiated laws and enforcement efforts aimed at drunken driving, which is linked to more than 10,000 fatalities annually in the U.S.

Like drunken driving, distracted driving is nothing new.

A more recent addition, however, is the use of cellular telephones, including the practice of texting while driving.

The practice has prompted state regulations. Texting while driving is prohibited in 35 states; nine states ban hand-held devices entirely; and 30 states, including Missouri, prohibit cellphone use by younger drivers.

The regulatory trend received a boost Tuesday when the five members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously called for a ban on cellphone use by drivers. Exempted would be emergencies and the use of GPS navigation systems.

Is this recommendation too harsh? Does it trample personal choice?

In seeking an answer, let’s look at the accident that prompted the NTSB recommendation.

On Aug. 5, 2010, on a interstate near Gray Summit, the 19-year-old driver of a pickup collided with a tractor trailer, touching off a chain reaction pileup involving two school buses.

Two people — the pickup driver and a 15-year-old student aboard one of the buses — died and 38 others were injured. The investigation revealed the pickup driver had sent and received 11 texts in the 11 minutes preceding the accident.

Generally, we are reluctant to support added regulations on individual behavior.

But the deadly evidence — thousands of people killed annually by impaired and distracted drivers — continues to rise.

Cellphone use while driving is simply the most modern culprit contributing to the persuasive argument that life-or-death consequences trump personal preference.

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