Highway to the texting zone

Editorials Opinions

Ninety-one rest stops along New York state highways are now redubbed “text stops.” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at a roadside podium Sept. 23, in front of large, blue highway signs reading, “It can wait—text stop 5 miles,” and “Text stop—parking area 1 mile.” Two-hundred and ninety-eight of the signs are being installed as part of a campaign against distracted driving that also includes raised fines and points against offenders’ licences.  This summer, New York State Police wrote 21 580 distracted driving tickets, compared to 5 208 the previous summer.


In Canada, 12 out of 13 provinces and territories have some form of distracted driving or use of cellphone while driving ban. B.C.’s fine for distracted driving is among the lowest five in the country at $167, but also includes three driver penalty points (DPP). Each year, offending drivers pay a premium set by how many points they have against their licence. This rises quickly; if you’re caught texting while driving three times, you’ll be billed an additional $640 on top of the original three fines, for a total of $1 141, and that’s if you don’t have DPP for anything else.


In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published the results of experiments that measured the driver distraction potential of destination entry, 10-digit dialing, dialing by contact selection, and texting. The study found that text messaging was associated with the greatest fall in driving performance. Destination entry was associated with the second-highest performance reduction, and the researchers also found that selecting a contact on an iPhone was just as bad as dialing by number. Distracted driving is the third leading cause of deadly crashes in our province (behind speeding and impaired driving) and reportedly a factor in over 90 deaths annually in B.C., compared to 352 deaths Canada-wide in 2010. These stats quickly weaken arguments like, “good drivers can multi-task,” “speakerphone is okay,” or “switching songs is fine,” which have no legal standing. Even when stopped at a red light, texting while driving is illegal.

There is substantial scientific evidence that says we are unable to properly multi-task at all. Recently the French biomedical research agency INSERM did an experiment involving getting subjects to organize jumbled letters to make words. Subjects did this task well, but when they were given a multi-tasking job of organizing both upper and lower letters, all subjects did poorly. Many other studies show that multi-tasking merely splits the brain’s attention; while we think we are getting a lot done, we are really only doing simultaneous tasks very poorly. So while it’s easy to find the idea of designated texting zones along highways somewhat silly or distasteful, we see it as a step in the right direction.


Do you really need a sign to remind you that pulling into a rest stop is the better option? We hope not. But we agree with Governor Cuomo that it’s worth a try. “With this new effort we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, because your text can wait until the next texting zone,” Cuomo said. “If you wait until you’re in a rest area or service area, you literally may be saving someone’s life and the life you save may be your own.”


You should probably just keep your phone out of reach.