Why don’t we take driving safely seriously?

For all the focus on cracking down on distracted drivers, the country still doesn’t take the issue that seriously.

It’s not at all unusual to see light sentences for drivers who kill people because they were checking their messages on their smartphone when they mowed someone down.

So give the people of Morristown, N.J., some credit for at least acknowledging out loud — sort of — that a person’s car is their castle and they have a god-given right to do whatever they want therein.

NJ.com this week noted that the community is rebelling against proposed legislation that would fine drivers $200 to $400 on the first offense.

“Would [the bill] make changing the radio station or adjusting the volume illegal? What about talking to a passenger?” Steve Carrellas, policy and government affairs director for the National Motorists Association state chapter, asked.

If changing a radio station or talking to a passenger makes your operation of a car unsafe, why not?

“The relationship between people and their cars, it’s almost like a Second Amendment thing — it may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but people think it is,” said State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the chairman of the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, and author of the legislation tells the New York Times. “But there’s not a consistent philosophy. We have a ‘live free or die’ mentality when it comes to things like driving distractions, but we’re O.K. with, ‘You can’t serve yourself at a gas station.’”

But New Jersey already bans cellphone use while driving and it apparently hasn’t reduced the amount of distracted driving, the Times says.

Now they’re reaching into the car and taking the Dunkin’ Donuts out of your hand and taking the lipstick out of your hand,” Jim Sillence, 44, of Morris Plains, said in the parking lot of a Morristown CVS one recent afternoon. “What are they going to do, outlaw drive-throughs?” (Mr. Sillence had chosen not to take advantage of the CVS’s drive-through pharmacy.)

Mr. Sillence, who acknowledged that neither grooming nor eating while driving was “the best idea,” was once rear-ended by someone who claimed to be looking at a GPS app at the time. Another time, he tried to change lanes after realizing that the driver ahead was texting, but all of the drivers around him appeared to be using their cellphones, too.

Still, to him, the ban stank of government overreaching. “I’m not smart enough to come up with the right answer,” he said, shrugging.

“The next thing, they’re going to be outlawing sneezing or coughing,” another opponent said. “Where does the line start?”

It starts at driving a car safely.

Related: Victim’s family seeks tougher texting laws (KARE)

  • Jeff

    Yep, these are many of the reasons we need automatic driving cars ASAP but until that day people should put their phones down and simply drive.

  • PaulJ

    People on TV don’t seem to take it seriously and they are our role models.

    • jon

      I’ve wondered why hollywood doesn’t show people smoking any more,

      But they are ok with riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or driving a car while both talking to and looking at passengers not the road.

      Though hollywood does seem pretty confident about bicycle helmets…

      • PaulJ

        I like it when they show riders without eye protection. Or people that have been out in the winter w/o hats or gloves but somehow don’t look cold.

        • jon

          CA people (hollywood) don’t understand winter.

          I had a co-worker from LA up here at one point, I gave her a ride back to the air port and had to explain both that 1) yes people do take the light rail in the winter time, and they wait for it outside, in the snow… and 2) what the ice scraper in my car was for…

          Though to be fair she had to fill me in when I was down in LA as to how they shoveled the tiled section of an outdoor mall we got dinner at… turns out they don’t shovel snow at all in LA (I guess it just builds up, and they walk over it? seems like the ice pack would break a lot of tiles… but to each their own.)

  • chris

    People are addicted to their phones in a very real way. It’s unhealthy.

    • Ben Chorn

      So maybe it’s time to use phones as part of the solution.

      PokemonGo was having people complain that people were using the app while driving. In one update they created a popup screen that says something to the effect of “You’re going too fast. Don’t play while driving.” Instead of an “okay” button it says “I’m a passenger.”

  • Mike Worcester

    //“The next thing, they’re going to be outlawing sneezing or coughing,” another opponent said.

    Sneezing and coughing are involuntary actions that are almost always impossible to control. The use of a phone, putting on makeup, shaving (seen that), eating a bowl of cereal, and the myriad other activities that drivers engage in, are fully in their control. They choose to engage in those.

    Seems like a bit of a difference if you ask me.

    • jon

      How do you feel about sleeping behind the wheel?

      It’s not exactly a voluntary action, you need to do it to live, but it seems like it’s a bad idea…

      If you aren’t willing and or able to focus on the task of driving you shouldn’t do it.
      If you are having an epileptic seizure it’s a bad time to start the engine and go for a drive.
      If you are slipping into insulin shock, it’s a bad time to go for a drive.
      If you are having a heart attack, it’s a bad time to go for a drive.
      If you are driving when those things happen, and you are able to pull over, you should pull over, and call 911… if you are not able to pull over because of the event happening to you then that is unfortunate. Willfully putting other people’s lives at risk is bad…

      • Mike Worcester

        The point of my comment was to highlight the absurdity of the statement made in the original reporting about what can and should be regulated in re driving.

        I know people who have fallen asleep behind the wheel (I’m guessing most of us do) and driving while tired is a willful action that puts drivers at risk. Not to be terribly snide, but a sneeze can happen at just about any moment. You know when you are tired, not always when your lungs will kick back at you.

        And as a diabetic, I can assure you that I watch my insulin levels carefully and if I drove when I should not have, again, that is a willful action that potentially puts others at risk.

        So it seems we agree that “willfully putting other people’s lives at risk” is definitely bad.

  • Gary F

    It took us how long as a society to address drunken driving, and while we now have much less, we still have some.

    I’m not sure when we as a society will take it seriously.

  • Thomas Mercier

    It’s Ok to kill someone while driving distracted. Someone else’s life is only worth only about 96 hours of yours.

    • Anna

      Addiction to texting on cell phones is eerily similar to repeat drunk driving offenses. We keep letting them text while driving as well as repeatedly driving while drunk.

      We’ve become a very selfish society and “smart” phones are a chief contributor. ” I need to answer this text and I need to do it right now!” Answering that text message couldn’t possibly wait until you are safely pulled off the road and at a full stop.

      We rationalize away our responsibility with “but I only did it this once,” as if that will somehow make it okay. Tell that to the family that lost a father, a grandfather, a brother or an uncle, etc.

      My phone is off in the car, period. I believe in the Catholic tradition of “avoiding the temptation of sin.” If the phone is turned off, you won’t be “tempted” to answer it.

      Whatever happened to negligent vehicular homicide?

      • I keep my phone in my pocket while driving and my family knows that I will NEVER answer the phone while driving.

        Just hang up and drive…

  • Jeff

    Another self-driving car story…it’s coming and we’re going to be a whole lot safer:


  • MikeB

    Most likely it will pass, which is good. There are already laws against distracted driving but unless more law enforcement is added it is most likely reactive enforcement. Increasing the costs of this activity will reduce it, not much else will.

  • Al

    If you’ve read ‘A Deadly Wandering,’ you’ll remember the author makes the case that we can’t HELP but respond to our phones when they beep at us.

    Which is almost scarier. It’s not a choice–it’s Pavlovian. It’s our lizard brains screwing around on the phone, not our higher selves.

    I started out as a try-my-best-not-to-answer sort of driver. After having read the book, I’m firmly in the phone-stays-zipped-in-purse camp. The data doesn’t lie.


    • wjc

      So those of us who can ignore the phone are more highly evolved? 🙂

      • Al

        More than I. 😀

      • Rob

        Yes. It’s sad that so many people have developed a Pavlovian relationship with their phones.

  • Jeff Klein

    We never step back and ask ourselves what the bigger problem is. We’ll make people wear seat belts, build cars like tanks to great expense and waste, we’ll tell each other to be more attentive drivers (“like I am”). But you can cut your chance of dying in a car in half by driving half as much, yet we don’t try to build places where that’s possible.

  • chlost

    “We” don’t take distracted driving seriously because so many of “us” are guilty of it. It was the same thing for DWI’s. Many, many drivers had been drinking. There was little support to increase the criminal ramifications by the public. Publicity about the victims of those drivers, as well as publicity about the sentences for the drivers increased the public’s negative views on drinking and driving. There is a general feeling of “There but for the grace of God go I” with distracted driving. Everyone has been distracted at one time or another, for whatever reason. It is very scary to think that all of us could face jail time for our (bad) behavior.

  • arnold

    If you want to commit murder and get away with it, do it with a car. If they’re on a bike the city will even forgive your parking tickets for a year.

  • rosswilliams

    We need to revoke the drivers license of anyone talking or texting while operating a moving automobile. They are a danger to themselves, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. They aren’t going to be convinced of that until they hurt or kill someone. They lack the judgment needed to operate dangerous machinery and they are too distracted to notice any close calls that might alert them to the danger. If they are unwilling to simply follow the law, we need to make them stop driving.

  • Rob

    You can have my car only after you pry my cold dead hands from the wheel following my distracted driving crash.