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Michael Medved

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Here’s why we shouldn’t change texting while driving laws

KIRO Radio's Dave Ross wonders if reckless driving that causes injury is enough for someone to lose their guns. (AP)

Washington became one of the first states in the country to ban texting while driving seven years ago but our news partners over at KING 5 suggest some folks in both law enforcement and the state legislature don’t think we went far enough in the restrictions.

And the reason is, the law was written with the specific instance of texting in mind – meaning if you’re doing some Christmas shopping on Amazon.com from your phone while driving down I-5, or you’re sending a Snapchat while cruising around the streets of Bothell, that’s not technically against the law.

State representative Dave Hayes (R-Camano Island) has said he might be willing to update the law, but hasn’t indicated what that might look like.

Now, I think doubling down on this law is a bad idea (because it’ll be futile) and it’s being pushed by people who either don’t understand the reality of technology and it’s chokehold on our lives, or they’re simply out of touch with our ability to multitask safely (and appropriately).

If you’re on your phone and you’re buying something from Amazon.com and suddenly you find yourself running a red light, there’s already a law to punish you, so punish the person for running that red light (and if you want, increase the fine for this). If you creep over to the wrong lane while tweeting, and it poses a danger, if you get caught, you can still be given a ticket.

The idea that if you make it illegal to check your phone while driving will suddenly result in drivers stopping that behavior is wrong, especially when you’re talking simply about a ticket. You’ve got people texting now – probably more so than before because every year, more and more young people get on the road who are addicted to texting. And the threat of a low-level ticket won’t change that behavior much.

The addiction is truly what this is about. We’re addicted to our phones (I sleep with mine on my bed!) and no low-level law will end that addiction. Though throwing someone in jail – like you do with DUIs – will have some effect on changing behavior (and being drunk always leads to impairment, whereas using your phone does not always lead to impairment).

And the truth is, though I don’t endorse the behavior because some people absolutely can’t multitask safely, many of us are capable of being in a car and checking our phones safely. There’s not much danger in checking Facebook at a red light. There’s not much danger in sending out a tweet while sitting in traffic on Mercer. If we’re parked in traffic in West Seattle, we can safely send an email to a coworker saying we’ll be late. (I don’t think it’s generally safe to do any of this while driving, especially in traffic.)

Data seems to back me up. We’ve seen a steady decrease, year over year, of fatal crashes in this state since 2008 (481) to 2012 (409). There was one year where we saw an increase by four deaths and then it dropped down dramatically again, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. When you look at “serious” accidents, we see a similar trend in decreases since 2008, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

And is using your phone in this way any more distracting than looking at billboards on your drive to work, talking to your friend in the passenger seat, or turning your radio to the Jason Rantz Show at 7 p.m. every night?

This seems more like trying to nickel and dime drivers with new tickets than actually do anything meaningful for traffic safety. I’d sure love to see more education on why texting while driving is unsafe because I think that can actually be meaningful.

What do you think? Leave your comments below or tweet us @JasonRantzShow.

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