Sunday, June 23, 2019

Should reader report driving texters?


While driving in heavy traffic on a recent Thursday afternoon, a reader we're calling Pip began counting the number of drivers she saw texting while behind the wheel. Texting and driving is illegal in her state as it is in the majority of states, yet Pip found it remarkable that within a 10-minute span she counted more than a half-dozen drivers busy reading and pecking at their cellphones.

"This has got to be worse than it ever was," writes Pip. "Why aren't there more police out monitoring this stuff? Someone is going to get hurt."

Pip is certainly correct that texting while driving is both illegal and dangerous. Regardless of how slowly traffic is progressing, a distracted driver is not a safe driver.

But if a recent survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is to be believed, the percentage of drivers "visibly manipulating handheld devices" dropped slightly from 2016 to 2017, even among 16- to 24-year-olds who manipulate their phones while driving more than any other age group. Pip's observation was that drivers of all ages were texting while driving.

But the overall numbers of people using handheld phones while driving are down. From 2007 to 2017, in fact, the percentage of drivers using a cellphone while driving dropped from 6.2 percent to 2.9 percent.

Nevertheless, Pip is concerned and wonders if it's wrong not to do anything about her concern.

"Should I report them?" she asks. "Roll down my window and shout at them? Beep my horn at them?"

It's generally not a good idea to engage directly in confrontational behavior with other drivers while driving. For one thing, confrontations can quickly escalate and put both participants and others on the road in danger. Beeping and shouting might be tempting, but unless a car is teetering into the wrong lane in front of you, showing restraint seems to be in order.

If the texting driver is driving erratically (which is often the case since it's challenging to drive within the lines while distracted by a digital device), then reporting the driver is a sound choice. The challenge, however, is that using a smartphone app to report or record unsafe drivers would have required Pip to manipulate her own handheld device while driving -- not an appropriate choice. If a passenger had been traveling with Pip while she was driving, he or she could use a smartphone app to report the erratic driving while texting.

If Pip believes the texting drivers are truly presenting a danger to other drivers on the road because of erratic driving and she has access to hands-free cellphone calling in her automobile, the right thing would be to call 911 to report the driver. If she had had a passenger along for the ride, he or she could have phoned in the report.

Pip and others aren't required to report anyone they see driving while texting. But if rather than just being angered by the irresponsibility of other drivers on the road Pip is genuinely concerned for her own and others' safety, she would be doing us all a favor by calling it in as safely as she possibly can. 


Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2014 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Is alum entitled to take credit for gift that cost him nothing?


A reader we're calling Alan regularly donates money to various nonprofit enterprises including the undergraduate college he attended. A former employer used to match donations Alan made up to a certain amount each calendar year, but his current employer has no such matching program.

Nevertheless, Alan has some discretionary money to spend in his new position. If he decides, for example, to buy lunch for a group of students from his alma mater, his company will reimburse him from his discretionary account. It's not entirely an altruistic move since Alan believes his company sees such gestures as a way of recruiting future potential employees to his organization.

Months after Alan hosted about a half-dozen students from his undergraduate college for an informal lunch and tour of his organization, an official from the college contacted Alan and asked him if he could submit his receipts so the college could acknowledge a gift in kind and supply him with "gift credit and a tax letter."

Alan responded by letting the official know he hadn't hosted the students to get any kind of credit.

"Of course not," the official responded, "but it helps our alumni participation number."

Colleges keep track of the percentage of alumni who donate as a way, among other things, of indicating to larger potential donors how engaged alumni remain with the institution.

Now Alan is torn. He'd like his college to include his effort among those of other alumni if it would help, but because he was reimbursed for the cost from the discretionary spending account his company gives him, he doesn't believe he is entitled to a tax credit. What, he wonders, is the right thing to do?

I am not a tax specialist nor am I up to date on all the ramifications of charitable giving deductions under the most recent tax legislation. Alan is right to pause, however, before considering claiming an expense on his tax forms for which he is ultimately repaid by his employer. If Alan were using his own salary to pay for that lunch with students, he shouldn't hesitate to consider the deduction possibility. But that does not appear to be the case here. Instead, it's his company that appears to be footing the bill.

The right thing is for Alan to let the college official know that the expense he incurred in feeding the students was reimbursed by his organization. The official can let Alan know if this still qualifies as alumni participation. If it does, he can also let Alan know what kind of documentation the college needs to verify the expense.

Even if the expense hadn't been reimbursed by his company, Alan would not be obliged to claim it on his taxes as a charitable contribution nor does he have to seek credit for the alumni participation. Alan has every right to give to a cause he cares about whether he receives credit for that giving.

Of course, if Alan chooses not to have this incident recorded by the college, he can expect further calls from the official or someone else reminding him he hasn't made his annual contribution and encouraging him to do so. Whether or not he does is also entirely up to Alan. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2019 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.