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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Texting while driving still pervasive, despite ban

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Featured, News

Massachusetts banned texting while driving last September; yet, law enforcement officials have struggled to enforce the new law during the past year, with police in the state issuing one texting citation for every 200 speeding tickets, The Boston Globe reported this week.

The law banned cell phone usage while driving for drivers younger than 18 and, at the same time, it also restricted cell phone usage to calls only for drivers aged 18 and older.

“Driving is a big responsibility,” director of public safety Ed Callahan said. “It is something that requires a driver’s full attention. While texting, you have to use at least one hand. That takes away from the whole premise of driving a car.”

On campus, students, faculty, escort drivers and police officers comprise a community of drivers who all own and operate cell phones.

“It’s very intense driving a car,” Callahan said. “Traffic moves quickly and there are many obstacles. People don’t realize that a car can be a weapon. Driving is nothing to be cavalier about.”

According to Callahan, escort drivers are not allowed to text on the job. “If escort drivers are stopped or parked and texting, they can accrue three points. If they accrue five points, they are terminated from service,” he said.

Callahan added that, in addition, police officers are not permitted to use their cell phones while operating cruisers. “We don’t let officers smoke in the cruisers, it’s against rules. Cell phone use is no different. It’s something that should not be done,” Callahan said.

Walter Cuenin, Catholic Chaplain and coordinator of the interfaith chaplaincy, noted, however, that it is extremely commonplace for drivers to be distracted behind the wheel. “Everyone has a cell phone. When I’m stuck on South Street waiting to get onto campus, I’m on the phone. Opening the top of a cup of coffee is a distraction, too,” Cuenin said.

Whether on short or long trips, many drivers find it impossible to avoid distractions. Eating food, texting, changing the radio station and taking phone calls are all constant distractions from the road. It is commonplace for drivers to multitask on the road and, at the same time, it is a tremendous challenge for police officers to recognize and prevent it.

Both Callahan and Cuenin noted that texting is more prevalent for young people, especially young drivers. “The younger generation lives with cell phones. Everything is instant,” Callahan said.

Callahan continued to say it is unrealistic to expect young people to stop texting while driving, even if there is a state law prohibiting it.

“If you are safety prone, you’ll adhere to regulations. If you live on the edge, you’ll text. Unfortunately, a lot of people take unnecessary chances,” he said.

Callahan also noted that texting pedestrians can pose safety hazards to drivers who are paying attention to the road. Calling it a “two-way street,” Callahan said many people text walking with their heads down and do not pay attention to oncoming traffic.

“It is dangerous to text while driving,” Cuenin said. “Having said that, I do eat and use my cell phone while driving. Having cell phones in cars can be tremendously helpful for safety, if you need to call for help.”

Cuenin reiterated the importance of responsible driving by citing a sign he saw outside a local Protestant church. “Honk if you love Jesus,” he said. “If you want to meet him, text while driving.”