What's to be done about texting and driving?


New Yorkers now have to live with the threat of a $150 fine for texting and driving. (Incidentally, I know a fool-proof way to avoid paying the fine: put your stupid phone away while behind the wheel.) But in the UK? They don’t mess around with their punishments. The New York Times has a story today about a young woman who’s now serving 21 months in prison for her role in car accident that left someone dead. What was her role? That’s right, texting while driving.

You might as well read the full story to understand the nuances of what happened, but the long and short of it is is that a 22-year-old woman, Phillipa Curtis, had been writing text messages to her friends while driving on the A40. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Victoria McBryde was on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.

And then Curtis slammed into McBryde’s car, killing her instantly.

Twenty-one months. That’s how long Curtis has to spend in prison, with the authorities there taking into account that texting had been largely responsible for the accident. Is that too harsh a sentence? I’d say no, because 21 months in prison doesn’t even compare to the hardship that McBryde’s family now has to endure. But that’s an emotional reaction. What we should be looking at is, what type of punishment is appropriate for situations like this? No one tolerates drinking and driving, and yet somehow texting and driving doesn’t have that same stigma attached to it.

What should probably happen is that once kids hit middle school (sixth grade or so), they should be taught in health class, or wherever, the dangers of texting and driving. I mean, what are the odds that the average kid is gonna stumble upon dust or rush or crank in his everyday life versus one day stepping behind the wheel and texting his friends? What’s more likely to make an impact on his health?

I’m interested in what y’all think: should we introduce harsh prison sentences—remember, New Yorkers only face a $150 fine for texting and driving, and it’s only a secondary law to enforce—, focus on education, or continue on with our heads in the sand as we pretend texting and driving isn’t an issue?