It took steadfast action by citizens committed to highway safety to make drunken driving less than an epidemic. Through committed organizations such as MADD and SADD, the laws of the land changed and drunken driving became a law enforcement priority.
The same must happen for cell phone distraction. Chances are that sometime today you will be near an automobile weaving slightly within its lane, or staying stopped at a traffic light or running through a traffic light or stop sign and the driver will have a cell phone at the ear.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said there were 5,474 people killed in traffic crashes reportedly involving distracted driving. That came in a year when a concerted effort was made through national public relations campaigns to try to make drivers think twice before putting their cell phone to use. There also were 448,000 injured in such wrecks in 2009. We'll ignore, for a moment, the federal transportation secretary's claim that there probably are more deaths in distracted driving accidents because many police departments don't report them as such.
Simple observation on the road of bad behavior and bad car control from drivers using cell phones would seem to indicate the problem is severe.
The problem is until people realize that driving is not a multitasking duty for the human mind, drivers and passengers will continue to die.
The situation will grow worse as auto manufacturers continue to add mind-blowing technological features that make cars mobile hot-spots, allow for photo storage, Facebook updates and more. By and large, the new technology will be voice-activated.
Still, they take attention away from driving. The Transportation Department issued a call during a summit on distracted driving this week to ban commercial truck drivers hauling hazardous materials from text messaging. It seems so common sense that to do so would be a waste of federally generated paperwork.
But then, one reads a story of a passenger bus driver in Portland, Ore., who was fired for reading an electronic book while driving down an interstate highway. Oddly enough, he was caught by a passenger using a video-enabled cell phone.
Personal electronics are everywhere, but it does not mean they should be used everywhere.
The issue is not the availability of the devices or the laws, because even with drunken-driving laws, people still drive drunk and kill people.
The issue is the mind-set of invincibility and importance, that the average driver thinks he cannot be distracted to the point of a fatality or that he's so important that his messages must be handled immediately.
Think twice. And think about driving.