NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Yesterday, a judge sentenced a Massachusetts teenager to spend a year behind bars for his role in a fatal crash police say happened while he was texting. His conviction is one of the first under a new state law that makes it a criminal offense to injure someone while texting and driving. Thirty-nine states banned texting while driving. Ten states prohibit talking on a hand-held phone. Thirty-two have bans on cell phone use by novice drivers. A number of studies show that it's dangerous and sometimes deadly to talk or text on the - while driving, but a lot of drivers do it, anyway.
If you're among them, what would make you stop? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. A national survey found today that more than half of high school seniors admit to texting or emailing while driving. Fifty-eight percent of seniors say they did so behind the wheel, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control.
And meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today that he has released a blueprint for ending distracted driving that offers comprehensive strategy to address the growing and dangerous practice, and announced $2.4 million in federal support for California and Delaware to expand the department's Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other pilot enforcement campaign to reduce distracted driving. The campaign includes encouraging the remaining 11 states without distracted driving laws to enact and enforce critical legislation.
It challenges the auto industry to adopt new and future guidelines for technology to reduce the potential for distraction. And the $2.4 million for Delaware and California stems from the - stems from success of efforts like Click It or Ticket that combines good laws with - this is a press release - and effective enforcement and a strong public education campaign. It mirrors the approached used in small-scale demonstration projects in 2011 in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York, which found dramatic declines in distracted driving in the two communities tested, with texting while driving dropping 72 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse.
So if you would - if you're one of those who texts while driving or talks on a cell phone, what would make you stop? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. And let's start with Leslie, Leslie with us from Southfield in Michigan. Leslie?
CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LESLIE: Yes, I have solved the problem of how to text and drive.
CONAN: And how is that?
LESLIE: My 10-year-old secretary does the texting, while I dictate.
CONAN: I see. So you have a small worker there beside you to do the work for you.
LESLIE: Right. She actually - when the phone rings, she takes the call...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Can Johnny(ph) come home with us?
LESLIE: Hold on a second. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (unintelligible)
LESLIE: When I get off the phone.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (unintelligible)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Who are you talking to?
LESLIE: This is the 10-year-old.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Who are you talking to?
CONAN: I gathered, yeah.
LESLIE: (unintelligible) will not take a phone call if I'm on the phone.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Who are you talking to?
CONAN: She's talking to America.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Who are you - hey, mommy...
LESLIE: You're talking to America. Say, hello, America.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: But - on the radio?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi.
CONAN: All right, Leslie. We'll let you get back to your distraction.
LESLIE: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. This, of course, is a very serious issue. That wasn't a very serious call. I worked in emergency rooms for several years, writes Mike Little(ph) in Westland, Oregon. I worked in emergency rooms for several years. Try that for a few nights, and then thinking about being a distracted driver. Let's see if we'd go next to Dennis, and Dennis on the line with us from San Angelo in Texas.
DENNIS: Hi, there.
DENNIS: Yeah. The truck drivers have been nailed with a $2,500 fine now that went into effect in January if they're caught using anything other than a hands-free device. And I would say, if they're going to that to them, why not do it to the four-wheelers, as well?
CONAN: Are you a truck driver?
DENNIS: Yes, I am.
CONAN: And is that kind of a fine persuasive?
DENNIS: Extremely. And if you don't use a hands-free device, that's a $2,500 for you and for your company, up to 11,000.
CONAN: And that same kind of a fine for - I have and not heard that expression - four-wheelers, that might be persuasive too.
DENNIS: I would think so.
CONAN: All right. Well, Dennis, drive carefully. Thanks very much.
DENNIS: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Nikola(ph) in Grass Valley, California: I honestly cannot fathom how anyone can drive and text. A friend of my daughter lost his father to a driver who was texting. And my teens both know that if they were to text and drive, they will lose their driving privileges for three months or their phones for three months. This is a real danger. It should be treated to the full extent of the law. What text message could possibly be worth the life of another human being? Hit them the same way you hit drinking drivers, please.
This is from a piece by Tanya Mohn that's published in the "Wheels" column of The New York Times: Bridgestone America survey commissioned by Bridgestone Americas, found a disconnect between teens' knowledge of hazardous behaviors and avoidance of those activities. Many young drivers are in denial about their distracted driving tendencies. Girls are far more likely to engage in distracted behavior behind the wheel than boys. Parents often set bad examples.
These impressions were shared in response to the question: Given that driving while distracted can be dangerous, why do you do it? Some young drivers considered themselves safe drivers simply because they hadn't been involved in an accident or hadn't been ticketed. Among other findings, about a third of respondents admitted to reading texts on occasion while driving, a quarter of respondents said talking on the phone while driving was not dangerous. And two-thirds said that they considered themselves very safe drivers. Perhaps the most serious duplicity, however, was reserved for parents.
Most respondents said their parents engaged in more potentially distracting activities while driving than they did. It must be OK if parents are doing it. They are learning bad habits from us. Let's see if we'd go next to - this is Adam, Adam with us from New Orleans.
ADAM: Hi. Thanks for having me on.
ADAM: For me - what it took for me to stop texting while driving, not that I at least tried to do it much, initially - with a new perspective, for me was riding a motorcycle everyday. When I - after I bought my motorcycle, started commuting on it every day, I started noticing just how many people were driving in some kind of distracted manner and really how dangerous it could be to other people.
CONAN: Did you ever do it on your motorcycle?
ADAM: No. I don't know that it would be possible for me to do so. And if I did, I think I would probably crash immediately.
CONAN: That's probably a persuasive argument too.
ADAM: Of course.
CONAN: And has there been a specific incident that scared the bejesus out of you?
ADAM: I don't know, but I could point out specific ones. I have had a few close calls where someone will start to, you know, pull out in front or maybe swerve into my lane. I'll honk at them, and I'll see them, you know, pop their head up. Throw, you know, throw something that I can only assume is a phone into the next seat. And, yeah, I - like I said, couldn't give any specific examples, but I do see it happen fairly often.
CONAN: OK. Well, I'm glad it was near miss and not something worse. Thanks very much for the call.
ADAM: And if my mom or dad are listening, sorry.
CONAN: Here's a tweet from Tom Bosco: I'm a reporter-photog. Car is my office. Likely won't quit. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier suggested technology to disable cell phones in vehicles. There's a lot of technology out there now, he said, which can disable phones. We're looking at that, he said on MSNBC, the possibility - I think it will be done, said Ray LaHood. I think the technology is there, and I think you're going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable cell phones. We do need to do this a lot more if we're going to save lives. Am I on a rampage, he asked himself. Yes, I am, and why shouldn't I be?
And there was some response to that. The NTSB called for a nationwide ban on texting and all cell phone use by drivers. The Lufkin Texas News wrote: There are few things more frustrating than seeing another driver look down at his cell phone instead of watching the road. Yet most of us who own smartphones, we would venture to guess, do exactly that. Many of us do it on a regular basis, but just because we have been accident-free so far doesn't mean we're always going to be so lucky.
The Oregonian in its December 14 editorial said the NTSB's proposal is forward-thinking but asks: too much too soon? The newspaper argued the board ignored the problem of enforcing such a policy and the possibility that some forms of cell phone use, particularly hands-free devices, might not pose as large a risk to public safety. Now, let's see if we can go next to - this is Van, Van with us from Moore in South Carolina.
VAN: I was suggesting a similar thing is the technology. I teach ninth grade and, you know, that's when kids are starting to drive, and they are unaware of the potential danger. But if a phone is moving more than 15 or 20 miles an hour, the cell phone company should be able to offer parents the option of (unintelligible) phone capabilities if the phone is in motion.
So some sort of sensor inside to detect when it's going - oh, I guess you could use the GPS already.
Yeah, you have the GPS functions, and parents can already track their children's phones when they are moving places. That's a technology that works. But if it knows when arrive at places and how fast I'm going, it would seem they already have to do is just somebody write an app that would disconnect those call and text functions while the phone is exceeding certain speed.
CONAN: With some sort of - presumably some override device if you need to make an emergency call.
VAN: Well, yeah. And most of the time, if you had an emergency, you're probably pulled over, anyway.
CONAN: Probably, but you might want to report somebody else driving while talking on the phone.
VAN: Yes, and just like when you unlock those phones, you have that button where you can hit emergency call. It opens is up just for, you know, an emergency system, but no, you know, local friend calls. So especially in the U.S., it'd open up for 911 and that would be it in terms of as long as the phone exceeding whatever the established speed would be.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the suggestion, Van.
CONAN: This is Adam Thyver(ph) - I'm probably mispronouncing that - who wrote on November 18th. This was in response to Ray LaHood's call for technology, maybe jammers. He wrote: It's simply not possible to eliminate all technology from cars, at least, not with creating and - without creating an auto police state and a huge headache for law enforcement officers to boot. Even if you ban integration at the factory of in-vehicle technologies, plenty of people would find aftermarket alternatives. There's just no stopping people from lugging their devices around with them wherever they go and finding ways to connect. And even if government forced signal jammers to be imbedded in every vehicle, determined hackers would likely find a way around them fairly quickly and then tell the public how to defeat those systems.
And it also says: We simply can't eliminate every risk from life and trying to do so, we have equally dangerous, unintended consequences. For example, if all communications devices were banned from automobiles and jamming devices were mandated for good measure, what happens when a driver veers off a snowy road into a ditch and needs to call or text for help? Perhaps, there would be a switch to disable the jammer in time of emergency, but wouldn't people just flick it off preemptively, undercutting the ban entirely.
We're talking about what would make you stop texting while driving or talking on a cell phone? You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go next to Rachel. Rachel with us from Grand, Michigan.
RACHEL: Grand Rapids, Michigan.
CONAN: Grand Rapids, OK. Go ahead.
RACHEL: Yes, one thing I just noticed today while I was walking down the street is when you're walking, you have to be very aggressive because people aren't paying attention to - not just cars on the street, but people that are walking on the sidewalks. So when you're trying to cross a street, you know, many times you have to wait that extra stopping to make sure that they stop and see you.
CONAN: And you've experienced this yourself?
RACHEL: Oh, yes, many times. And just the other day, I was - this lady was in a van texting, and an ambulance was coming down the street. She didn't even hear or see it, and the ambulance almost ran into her while they have the emergency lights on. So, you know, when we live in our urban neighborhoods and a lot of people are walking 'cause it's a walkable neighborhood, people in cars are dangerous, and they're more dangerous when they are texting on their phones 'cause they're not paying attention to what's happening around them.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Rachel.
RACHEL: OK. Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Ken in Portland: What about texting at stoplights or when stopped in traffic? I am guilty of this, but don't do it while the vehicle is in motion. I have occasionally annoyed people that way, but it's not dangerous. But I don't think the law distinguishes, perhaps, because you may not notice when the light changes.
VAN: That's a possibility. Let's see if we can go next to - this is John, and John with us from Naples, Florida.
JOHN: Yeah, thanks for taking my call. You know, I really think that texting and driving or using the phone, that's not the problem. I mean, if that were the problem, we have millions of car accidents every day. The problem is when you hook on a stupid person into the equation. Because, you know, we can do more than one thing at a time. It is possible. Why not just punish the people who have a problem? Why not punish some people who have accidents or who, like the last lady, got involved with the ambulance? Why not do that?
I'd like to make a second point. Ray LaHood, who was on your show some months ago. And he said, anything other than 10 and two on the wheel, is distracted driving, but I'd like to tell Ray LaHood that I have a stick shift. And as a Republican, like he is, it's interesting, big government, they hate big government, except when it's intruding into our personal lives.
CONAN: Well, stick shift is a solution to texting while driving, isn't it?
JOHN: No, I can text and drive all I want to. I've never even had to touch the breaks. As long as you pay attention, it's not a problem but...
CONAN: But, no, you got to pay attention to your stick. You got something to do with your right hand.
JOHN: Yeah, but you can still work the cellphone if you keep your eyes on the road. It's not impossible. It's when people are irresponsible. Why punish everyone? Why not punish the irresponsible?
CONAN: After they've committed an accident and killed somebody?
JOHN: Absolutely. Punish them put 10, 20 years in jail. That will stop people who can't do it.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, John.
CONAN: Here's Ivan Porter, tweeted: Next, they'll put you in jail for being distracted by fast food sandwiches during an accident. Be careful, folks.
And this is from Paula in Jacksonville: What stopped me acquiring a phone with a QWERTY keyboard? As far as I'm concerned, texting on a keyboard of this type cannot be done. I don't understand how anybody tries. I do talk, but I have been driving and talking for years.
And then from Gary: There's already an app to shut the phone off if going a certain speed, so that idea, it's a good one. Clearly, somebody has already adopted it.
And this is from Lauren in Cincinnati: The best thing I've ever used to stop my bad habit of texting and driving is to drive a manual vehicle. I used to be a horrible driver before I started driving a manual. Now, I haven't had an accident, speeding ticket or even a close call since I started driving a manual five years ago. Driving a manual forces the driver to pay more attention not only to the vehicle, but also to the world around you.
We thank everybody who emailed and tweeted and called in to weigh in on this topic, and we're sorry we couldn't get to everybody's call. Coming up tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. Ira Flatow will be here. I'm Neal Conan. We'll see you again on Monday. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.