Hands on the Wheel, Not on the BlackBerry Keys
By MATT RICHTEL
Published: May 12, 2007
Do u txt whl drvng?
If you are doing so in Washington State, cease and desist, or risk a fine.
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the nation’s first law yesterday to ban “D.W.T.” — driving while texting with a cellphone, BlackBerry or other mobile device.
“Would you read a book or newspaper while you were driving? No!” Governor Gregoire said. “Then why would you text while driving?”
New Jersey is asking, too. The Legislature is considering a bill to outlaw D.W.T. (one of its sponsors, Paul D. Moriarty, admitted to sometimes using his BlackBerry while driving).
Some states already ban talking on a cellphone behind the wheel unless a headset is used, and Washington joined that group yesterday. But while reading or other distracting activities may not actually be illegal behind the wheel, more legislators seem to be worried about the danger of multitaskers tapping away without coming to a stop.
Mobile texters in the United States sent 158 billion messages last year, up 95 percent from 2005, according to industry statistics. There is no data on how many are typed or read by drivers, or how often the activity leads to collisions.
There are, though, documented cases of texting-related crashes, including one that prompted the law in Washington. A driver, apparently fixated on his BlackBerry, slammed his van into the car in front of him last December, causing a five-vehicle pileup, state officials said.
Not everyone advocates legislation. Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that such laws, while well intended, were difficult for police to detect or enforce.
In Washington, the penalty for D.W.T. is a $101 fine (the proposed fine in New Jersey is $250). But the crime is a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for some more grievous infraction.
“There’s a challenge for law enforcement,” Governor Gregoire said.
For some, the greater challenge may be to exercise impulse control on the road.
James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University, says he doubts that many multitaskers will keep both hands on the wheel.
“Only the most angelic drivers,” he said, “will be able to resist the temptation.”