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.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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