The Midland Reporter Telegram graciously allowed me to have a second op-ed piece for Sunday’s edition of their paper. Please take a moment to read my concluding thoughts on the matter.
A New Texting Law Won’t Solve the Distracted Driving Problem
By Nelson Spear
There are several good reasons why Representative Craddick’s texting bill has failed three times in the State Legislature. By being a personal witness to the debate in the most recent session, I have been able to articulate some of those reasons over the last month. What was not a matter for debate was whether or not texting and driving was a good idea. What was a matter for debate is how we as a society most effectively eliminate distracted driving.
New laws are not the answer. The city leaders have led us to believe that the current public outcry is so great that they now feel that they have to do something right now. I shared with city leaders my dismay at this “Microwave Generation” mindset. This mindset presupposes that once there is a specific law in place, that there will be an automatic or measurable decrease in that prohibited activity. As a lawyer with 12 years of prosecution experience, I can say that motorists’ reactions to traffic laws just don’t work that way.
Take Texas’ DWI problem for example. I cannot think of a more targeted prohibited activity than drinking and driving. Texas has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most aggressive states when it comes to DWI enforcement. Further, some of the nation’s best criminal deterrence programs focus on DWI prevention. However, despite enforcement and educational deterrence efforts, the numbers of DWI offenses has not diminished. As per MADD, in 2013, Texas led the nation in DWI deaths.
More government is not the answer. President Reagan once said, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” One city leader at the July 14th city council meeting stated that “[t]he $500 fine will sure stop me from texting while driving.” At this week’s forum, another city leader stated that the increasing number of tickets issued under the new law will be a positive sign that the texting problem is getter better. These comments reflect the Microwave Generation mentality; they reflect the “government is the only solution” mentality; and, they reflect the idea that more known texting violators equates to less texting violators. Not once has any city leader mentioned anything about any non-governmental solutions to go in concert with their new law.
But, here is the real head-scratcher. The government is about to create a new revenue stream and there is no accountability for what might be done with that new revenue. Will it go to reducing the taxpayers’ tax burden? Nah, that is too obvious.
Solutions: The first step in solving any problem is to take assessment if you are a part of the problem. Some people can’t get past the fact that they may be a part of the problem. In the present case, there is the city leader mentioned above who indicated that the $500 fine is what would stop him from texting and driving. I guess he will keep doing any activity so long as it is legal. Unfortunately, it is this unaccountable attitude that is part of the problem. People’s behavior will change only when they take ownership of their contribution to this problem.
I would also like to suggest an additional solution. For certain traffic law violations, I would require mandatory, in-person court appearances for the violator. Additionally, I would give the judge discretion to order those found guilty of those offenses to do three hours of trash pickup detail.
I add these suggestions because in my experience what people do value more than money is their time. Some will do anything and everything possible to get out of a government function that requires their physical presence (like jury duty), but they will pay a fine. The advantage to giving the judge this sentencing option is that everyone who is charged and found guilty of these kinds of offenses will be equally impacted – rich and poor.
Conclusion: My frustrations about this big rush to pass this new law are multifaceted. But they can be summed up like this. I am frustrated that some believe that the government can instantly or effectively solve certain problems of the community just by passing a new law. I am frustrated with city leaders who are only focusing on one part of the distracted driving problem. I am also frustrated when city leaders make great fanfare of all that they have done for a very specific problem by only creating a new law. And, I am frustrated when I see the many expressions of hypocrisy by the city leaders who promised smaller government in their campaigns, yet they pass revenue making laws without accountability for spending.
I urge you to call your city leaders and tell them to fight all forms of distracted driving but to not do it by passing the proposed law.