Texting and driving? Can’t condemn it enough

Peter Jackson
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Why are you covering X when you should be covering Y?

Why did you waste space with a photograph of a dog on a horse when you could have shown the slaughter in Syria?

I always get a kick out of these complaints.

The premise is simple: regardless of what’s contained in the rest of the paper, that one solitary space was egregiously misappropriated.

That space on the bottom of Page 1 was destined for greatness. It could have turned heads, won awards for its penetrating insight. Alas, it was squandered on some lame story about a goat and hedgehog.

On Monday, The Telegram’s Cheers and Jeers section gave federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a little jab for telling everyone he smoked pot. No big deal; it just seemed like a bad campaign move.

Some readers took issue, and they have every right to. But one observer went further. He found that single paragraph represented a total failure of journalistic judgment.

 “Jeers to The Telegram for criticizing Trudeau, while failing to criticize all those people who flaunt the law daily by texting and talking on the phone while driving,” he said. “I think this practice is much more dangerous, and The Telegram is in a position to do something about it. How about some editorials, articles, etc., about the dangers?”


Plenty of coverage

Well, just last Thursday, Internet guru John Gushue had a whole column on it. Back in May, reporter Josh Pennell had a front page feature on it, entitled “Texting: the new drunk driving.”

In fact, between news reports, editorials and opinion columns, The Telegram has devoted a lot of ink to warnings about this dangerous new threat — at least 30 articles over the past two years. (That doesn’t include other dangerous behaviour while driving, such as cleaning spilled coffee or putting on makeup.)

But I will give our reader some leeway. Frankly, I agree that the scourge of distracted driving cannot be over-emphasized. It is, as Pennell’s article points out, coming to be an even bigger problem than drunk driving.

Look at it this way. Would you drink three or four shots of alcohol, then climb behind the wheel and drive your toddler to kindergarten? No? Well, that’s the equivalent of hauling out your cellphone in the middle of traffic.

As RNC Staff Sgt. Sean Ennis told Pennell in May, people just haven’t assigned the same stigma to cellphone use as they have to driving drunk.

“We’re not gonna give our 17- or 18-year-old daughter or son the keys to the car and a bottle of rum or a dozen beer.” Ennis said. “We wouldn’t do that, but we’re giving them the keys to the car and we give them a cellphone but we don’t give them the headset to go with it or give them the (proper) advice.”


Scary stats

Despite the fact a majority of drivers seem oblivious to the risks involved, the statistics are grim. Police in Nova Scotia recently confirmed that distracted driving has so far surpassed impaired driving as the No. 1 cause of deaths this summer. Saskatchewan has reported similar statistics.

Ontario blames 30 per cent of its highway accidents on distracted driving, although speed is the top cause in that province.

And in case you’re not aware, hands-free communications, such as that built-in Bluetooth connections, do not lower distracted driving risks by any significant amount.

So, yes, let’s talk more about texting and driving. Let’s up the fines, catch people in the act. Anything to stop the madness.

We don’t, however, want to go too far, inserting messages willy-nilly — as in this witty example offered by another commentator:

“I found his portrayal of the Young Sebastian to be rather contrived while the middle of the play started to drag, but not as bad as texting and talking on the phone while driving.”

No play could be that bad.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor.

Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bluetooth, Young Sebastian

Geographic location: Syria, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Ed
    August 29, 2013 - 08:20

    Okay Peter, I apologize for criticizing the Telegram, but this problem just bothers me so much, I guess I got carried away. It's very pervasive, and there's not a day that I don't see numerous drivers on their cellphones while in traffic. Is the Telegram legally allowed to publish pictures of those drivers, or maybe a video taken at the intersection of Columbus and Topsail Road? Something has to be done to get through to those drivers, and maybe seeing their pictures in the social media might be a partial answer. Who knows, maybe there's a site out there somewhere where this is already done, similar to nltraffic on twitter, or the website that was devoted to examples of poor parking. I find it amazing that so many people openly flaunt the law on a daily basis, and have no hesitation in breaking it. Isn't it amazing how many potential criminals we have, but I'm sure that they think they are not doing anything wrong.

  • Brett
    August 28, 2013 - 14:47

    I would like to see the statistics. http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=223863 Here are some regarding texting and driving. One question - how distracting is smoking a cigarette or drinking a coffee? The coffee cup restricts vision so that you cannot see in front of your vehicle at all, but glancing at your phone is no different than changing the radio station. Putting on make up? Shaving with an electric razor on the way in to work, reading the paper? All stupid things, but where do you stop legislating? What is the likelihood that a texting accident results in a dangerous accident as opposed to a fender bender?

  • david
    August 28, 2013 - 12:05

    NOTE: This is NOT a defense of texting.... Drinking and driving is a larger, more insidious societal problem here, carried out by the entire spectrum of adults, especially in rural areas. Texting is (currently, at least) an activity of mainly younger people, in urban areas (eg. St. John's) . Drunk driving is a continuous, long-lasting dangerous state of impaired judgement, while texting amounts to short-lived, sporadic moments of complete inattention. Neither is safe, but being drunk behind the wheel here is far more common, far more serious a problem, and a more serious target for the public's scorn and outrage.

    • Joe
      August 28, 2013 - 14:58

      Wrong,wrong,wrong, wrong and wrong. A summary of your assertions.

    • rok
      August 29, 2013 - 08:43

      "Driving is a continuous, long-lasting...." David my good man, too many people just can't put those bloody texters down, whether behind the wheel with their children onboard or walking into a doctor's office for an appointment. Stand on any part of the road in CBS or downtown St. John's and pretty well everyone and his brother has one of those or a cellphone clapped to the side of their heads. Throw in tailgaiting and it's a nightmare out there for any conscientious motorist. Unless there's a user in the car other than the driver the damn things shoud be relagated to the trunk, or sealed in the back of a pickup, or SUV...like alcohol.

    • david
      August 29, 2013 - 09:15

      To repeat: ***NOTE: This is NOT a defense of texting**** Drunk driving is worse than texting. It is not episodic, or sporadic, or intermittent. It impairs one's attention and judgement 100% of the time behind the wheel. Not being able to comprehend what one reads is also a real disablitiy.