The National Transportation Safety Board’s recommended ban on all cellphone use by drivers likely won’t fly in Kansas. But with more people texting, e-mailing and phoning while behind the wheel, state leaders should consider raising the fine for texting while driving and otherwise seek to discourage high-tech recklessness on Kansas roads.
While 57 percent of Kansans who participated in a new SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, think a complete ban on cellphone use while driving would save lives, just 34 percent favor such a ban; 49 percent think hands-free devices should be the only ones allowed.
People recognize the danger, but they don’t see it as so great that they want to be denied the convenience and instant gratification of cellphone communication.
Of the 51 percent of Kansans surveyed who said they use a handheld phone while driving, 20 percent said they do so regularly and 31 percent occasionally. Only 19 percent admitted to texting or e-mailing while driving — 14 percent occasionally and 5 percent regularly.
And a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that many drivers think the danger is other drivers’ cellphone use, not their own.
Driving while texting has been illegal in Kansas since July 2010, carrying a $60 fine since last January. But most of those Americans surveyed by the NHTSA said those who violate bans on cellphone use and texting deserve fines of $100 or more. Nearly a quarter supported $200 to $499 fines. There may be room for a higher fine in Kansas.
With teens now averaging seven texts each waking hour, or 3,417 messages per month, according to a new Nielsen study, state leaders also need to consider whether the 2-year-old ban on 14- through 16-year-old drivers’ use of wireless communication devices is all it can be. A few post-bell minutes in any Wichita high school parking lot suggest that kids don’t take it seriously.
Part of the problem with any such ban on using cellphones while driving is that enforcement is difficult, because people can hide the devices.
So more efforts need to be made to warn drivers that there’s no hiding after an accident. Texting and phone records remove all doubt for investigators, confirming, for example, that a 19-year-old pickup driver who died in a Missouri pileup last year had just sent and received 11 texts in 11 minutes.
With smartphones now having the status of essential business tools, and automakers busy transforming cars into “immersive consumer electronic devices,” the NTSB’s preferred bans on all cellphone use by drivers may be out of political reach. But this is a growing problem in search of a solution, in Kansas and nationally.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman