Guy W. Farmer: Distracted driving – accidents waiting to happen
Without doubt, the most critical issue the 2011 Nevada Legislature will face when it convenes here early next year is the state’s huge budget deficit – a $6 billion budget with a $3 billion deficit. But there’s another, non-fiscal issue that our newly elected lawmakers should address: Distracted driving, which jeopardizes our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, on Nevada roads and highways.
Nevada lags behind other states in banning driving while talking on cell phones or while texting, which is even worse because it requires drivers to take their eyes off the road. According to the state Transportation Department, cell phone-related accidents and injuries almost doubled in Washoe County between 2005 and 2009. There were 43 cell phone-related crashes that caused 33 injuries in the Reno area last year compared with 26 crashes and 16 injuries in 2005. Those aren’t big numbers yet, but they are increasing much too rapidly.
I wouldn’t be so concerned if distracted drivers were only jeopardizing themselves, but they also put their passengers, including young children, and everyone else on the road in jeopardy. How many times have you pulled up at a stop light and observed your fellow drivers looking straight down into their laps to read or send text messages? What are these folks thinking?
I’d add a prohibition against eating while driving. How can you eat a half-pound burrito or a crispy taco while maintaining control of your vehicle? It’s difficult to drive responsibly with a load of greasy hamburger meat in your lap, or so they tell me. I’ve never understood why people want to eat and drive at the same time. That probably makes me an old fuddy-duddy, but I really don’t care. Sorry about that.
The Nevada Public Safety Department prohibits its employees from texting while driving and several legislators have submitted bill draft requests to join 30 other states that already prohibit the practice. Those bills would prohibit texting, restrict the use of cell phones (hands-free phones only), and prohibit minors from using cell phones and similar devices while driving. I urge Carson City Assemblyman-elect Pete Livermore to join the lawmakers who are proposing this common sense public safety legislation.
During my long road trips to Seattle and Southern California I see far too many drivers who are paying attention to something other than safe driving. This includes drivers who are stuffing their faces and women who are putting on their makeup. That may be a sexist observation, but I do hope the 2011 Legislature will take action to ban these dangerous practices behind the wheel.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is an accident-free driver.