“Don’t text and drive. Be responsible.”
On I-95 in South Florida (and perhaps elsewhere), there are large LED signs stretching across the roadway that, when not providing traffic estimates, notices of lane closures, and “silver alerts”, display the above message, apparently as their default setting.
This seems entirely too tepid an exhortation given the subject matter. In character, it’s a bit like a parent or teacher saying to two children engaged in a violent fistfight, “Come on now, guys, can’t we all just get along?”
I think it would be more appropriate if the sign read something along the lines of, “Don’t text and drive! Don’t be a complete imbecile!” Or perhaps even, “Don’t text and drive or we’ll kill you!”
The last option might at first glance seem a bit extreme…but is it really? After all, the reason we’re telling people not to text and drive is because it’s dangerous. It distracts drivers from what should be their primary, overriding concern when driving a vehicle: driving the vehicle. The statistics on texting and driving are often reported as indicating that it is as dangerous to text and drive as to drive while drunk, something I think most of us would appropriately revile. If you’re involved in a text conversation that’s not important enough for you to pull off the road somewhere and park, then you’re involved in a text conversation that can wait until later.
Maybe your own life isn’t important enough for you not to want to risk it by texting and driving. It’s your judgement to make whether your own continued existence is a value or not. But the trouble is, when you’re driving—on any road, really, but especially on a high-speed, high-traffic highway like the Interstate—you’re not just putting yourself in danger. Far more importantly, you’re endangering other people on the road.
If texting and driving—or drunk driving, or failing to signal, or driving with excessive speed, or driving when severely fatigued, or any of the other number of unsafe but common practices we all see (and some of us commit)—only ever injured or killed the perpetrator, then I wouldn’t see much wrong with it. It would still be stupid, but that’s fine, stupidity is ubiquitous and possibly inescapable. I might even encourage people to do it, because then we’d be more likely to get such idiots removed from society by their own hands. We don’t need them, to be quite honest. In the words of Jimmy Carr, “The gene pool could use a little chlorine.”
The real problem with stupid driving practices is that they don’t just put their perpetrators at risk, they endanger everyone else who is anywhere near the cretin who’s doing them, even people who are scrupulously careful about their own driving. A parent with children, an ambulance carrying a sick person from one hospital to another, a school bus, a truck conveying valuable goods from one place to another, or even just a single driver making his or her way to or from a job, trying to be a productive member of society—all these people are endangered by the stupidity of people who text and drive.
The reckless carelessness of the texter-while-driving puts the lives and health of all these other people on the road at risk, and not even in the service of some delusional ideal or “greater good” such as might motivate a terrorist. It’s just laziness, self-indulgence, failure to concentrate, attention deficit; pathetic character flaws are what endanger the lives of those around the texter. We other people on the road would be within our moral rights to kill a text-and-driver in self-defense to keep him or her off the road, or at least to lock the culprit away somewhere or otherwise physically prevent her or him from driving (since obviously simply passing a law prohibiting such behavior doesn’t work).
I understand that we could never make it legal to murder someone for texting and driving. Such an allowance would be too open to abuse. But on the other hand, if I were a juror for a man who was on trial because he had killed someone he had seen texting and driving, I would hesitate to vote to convict the defendant; I would rather say thank you and go on my way. The killing would have very much the character of self-defense, and would be much less questionable in my mind than many actions protected by the “stand your ground” laws in states such as Florida. We can’t seem to count on the police to protect us from such reckless endangerers; they’re too busy locking up non-violent drug users, wasting the taxpayers’ money to keep the owners of private prisons rich, and to keep the prison guard unions happy.
Texting while driving is not simply failing to “be responsible.” It’s a frankly disgusting moral failure, a reckless indifference to the lives and health of one’s fellow human beings, a petty, small-minded and pathetic self-indulgence that’s worthy of absolute contempt from every decent person on the planet. If you can’t stop yourself from texting and driving—if you don’t care enough about your life and the lives of those around you to restrain yourself in this really very minor way—then why don’t you go off somewhere and, after making appropriate arrangements, use some quiet, painless, low-mess method and kill yourself? It would sad, perhaps even tragic, but at least you wouldn’t be injuring and killing unpredictable numbers of other people at the same time.
We know that it’s possible not to text and drive, because before the last few decades, it wasn’t even possible to text and drive. How many of us composed and wrote our various personal letters while driving to and from work or the store in the years before cellular phones? How many people did crossword puzzles or word searches while driving, their newspapers propped on their steering wheels as they moved along at high speeds, pen in one hand, occasionally exchanged for a cup of coffee?
Actually, there probably were people who did such things. Hopefully they’re all dead by now. If so, good riddance, and may the text-and-drivers swiftly join them.