Plz ban txtng!

Making headlines today is news that the Illinois Senate has approved a ban on text messaging and web surfing on your phone while driving. After reading a couple of different local papers’ stories on the subject, and the readers’ comments that followed them, I can’t help but be baffled and disturbed by people’s attitude toward this change. I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion, but I just cannot understand why this ban is only now being accepted, and why Illinois is one of only a few states to be considering it. Why should anyone be texting while driving?

After looking at some readers comments, and drawing from a few conversations with ignorant drivers I have known, I’ve concluded that some people believe they have the right to do whatever they want behind the wheel, and asking them to please keep their eyes on the road is too restricting of their so-called ‘rights’. When I used to drive on a daily basis, and even when I rode the train along miles and miles of highway every morning, I always noticed people in their cars doing things that were far too distracting to be acceptable driving behaviors. Examining boogers, reading the newspaper, curling their eyelashes, shaving their neck (that was a woman), and a million other things that if actually seen by a police officer, you would most definitely get ticketed for (okay, maybe not the booger thing).

I’ve had this discussion various times with people who I know text and drive and aren’t phased by it. “But I’m a good driver. It’s not that hard. And I don’t do it all the time,” they say. I don’t know where this driving ego comes from exactly, maybe from people who have never been in a car accident and don’t know how easy it is to lose control of a car or traffic situation. But the bottom line is that when you are driving, you should be focused on driving. It doesn’t matter if you think you are invincible. You are not. I promise. And being in a steel box with wheels doesn’t make you exempt from the laws of mortality either.

Furthermore, if you choose to be an idiot and distract yourself while driving, that decision doesn’t just put you in danger. It affects all the people around you, especially those not inside the little steel boxes. In a city like Chicago, pedestrians are everywhere. We, too, follow the rules of road and cross at designated spots and generally obey traffic lights so as not to get run over by cars.

Sometimes standing on the corner in the loop causes a bit of anxiety as taxis fly by and non-taxis (who seem to be even more aggressive around here than the cabs) try to maneuver in and out of the crowded streets. I can’t tell you how many people I see on their phones, and how often I worry that when I step out into the street for my turn to cross, the car speeding toward the red light isn’t going to stop. Sometimes I even wait to make sure the cars have to come to a complete stop before I start to cross, I mean, who knows what these drivers are paying attention to?

Look at the girl in Illinois a few weeks ago who was painting her nails while driving. She wasn’t paying attention, didn’t stop soon enough at a changing light and crashed into a stopped motorcyclist, killing her. I’m sure the girl thought she’d be able to give herself a manicure without any problems. Everyone does. If you thought to yourself, “Oh this is really dangerous what I’m doing and someone is probably going to get hurt because I’m not paying enough attention,” you wouldn’t do it. Instead, people think, “No big deal. I’m a good driver. I can multitask." And what seems to happen in these kinds of situations is a giant karmic twist, where the person killed is never the person who was foolish enough to take everyone’s life into their own manicured hands.

I consider driving a privilege. When getting your driver’s license, you have to prove that you are capable of operating a machine that has the power to kill in a matter of seconds, and you must demonstrate that you understand the rules that come with operating said vehicle on the road. What many people fail to realize, it seems, is that these rules are put in place to keep people safe. Not because there are a bunch of government officials secretly plotting ways to make driving less fun.

If something happened to you or someone you loved because some other driver had to answer an urgent text message, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think, “That’s okay, it’s his right to not pay attention while driving.”

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