There is no need to offer an example of the risks of texting and driving. But on Wednesday, that example came when a 44-year-old woman was killed in a crash in Eddington. Police say moments before the car crashed into a tree, the driver had been sending and receiving text messages on her phone. The passenger in the car was hospitalized with serious injuries.
For the last several months, Secretary of State Charlie Summers has been advocating for changes to driving laws to improve the odds that drivers in the 15-24 age group will live to be 25. Those changes would usher onto Maine roads drivers who are better prepared and better warned about the risks of such activities as texting.
That a 44-year-old woman was texting while driving — and possibly distracted to the point of causing the crash — illustrates how deeply ingrained this relatively new phenomenon is in our culture. People text while having lunch with their spouses. They text while playing with their kids. They text while cooking dinner. They text while using the bathroom.
Nothing government can do will change these regrettable habits, but the law can and has addressed texting while driving, making it illegal last fall. It must be regarded as a threat to safety. In fact, Mr. Summers believes texting while driving is as deadly as driving drunk.
That point is made in a powerful short film Mr. Summers is highlighting. It’s called “It Can Wait” and can be found on YouTube and other sites. One of the young people featured in the film says he would never agree to the suggestion that he close his eyes for five or six seconds while driving. But that’s very close to what drivers are doing while looking at a cellphone and pushing keys.
While older drivers are engaging more frequently in such distractions as texting while driving, a huge impact can be made by focusing on beginning drivers and getting them to see the risks of such behaviors. Along with texting, there are other fronts on which the state can improve the odds that young drivers will live long enough to become old drivers.
In early January, in the midst of the secretary of state’s public campaign for changing driving laws, three young women, ages 16, 19 and 20, and a 19-year-old man were killed in three separate crashes. One of the drivers was texting while driving. Mr. Summers hosted meetings around the state late last year and early this year to gather ideas on how the odds could be improved.
The Secretary of State has developed a list of changes he hopes to make to driving laws. They make sense. The last time the curriculum for the written driving test was reviewed, Mr. Summers said, was in 1996. That’s before cellphones and other portable technology became ubiquitous.
In a visit to Narraguagus High School earlier this year, he said a dozen students told him they planned to wait until they were 18 to take a driver’s education course because of the expense. That should change, he believes, so that teens of all economic classes have the opportunity to be well trained before getting behind the wheel.
Mr. Summers also wants to increase the number of hours a new driver must spend behind the wheel with a supervising adult from 35 hours to 100 hours. He also wants the supervising driver to be at least 25 years old. And he would like new drivers to experience the challenges of driving in all four of Maine’s seasons. Often, teens take driver’s ed in the spring and by fall are driving on their own, with no adult supervision as they first tackle snow- and ice-covered roads.
New drivers also should have earlier curfews, Mr. Summers believes. Most accidents occur between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Secretary of State Summers may soon become U.S. Senate candidate Summers. Before this happens, his important suggestions for improving driving laws should be considered.