Drive-by Texters (Go to Jail?)
For Brits who text while driving, and for those who share the road with them, things are pretty far from merry in old England. The Times just ran the disturbing story of 22-year-old Phillipa Curtis, who, distracted while texting, crashed her Peugeot into a parked Fiat, killing the 24-year-old Victory McBryde. Curtis was recently sentenced to 21 months in a high-security prison. From NYTimes:The crash might once have been written off as a tragic accident. Ms. Curtis's alcohol level was zero. But her phone, which had flown onto the road and was handed to the police by a witness, told a story that - under new British sentencing guidelines - would send its owner to jail.In the hour before the crash, she had exchanged nearly two dozen messages with at least five friends, most concerning her encounter with a celebrity singer she had served at the restaurant where she worked.They are filled with the mangled spellings and abbreviations that typify the new lingua franca of the young. "LOL did you sing to her?" a friend asks. Ms. Curtis replies by typing in an expletive and adding, "I sang the wrong song." A last incoming message, never opened, came in seconds before the accident.With that as evidence, Ms. Curtis was sentenced in February under 2008 British government directives that regard prolonged texting as a serious aggravating factor in "death by dangerous driving" - just like drinking - and generally recommend four to seven years in prison.The practice of legislating changes in behavior via the threat of prison sentences is both tricky and imperfect. However, there have been some really damning studies on the danger of texting while driving (like this formerly classified U.S. report), so I'm not really certain what the alternative might be-maybe a temporary loss of license and a fine? To move the discussion out of the United Kingdom and into the United States, it might be worth noting that in 2007, there were 41,059 automobile-related fatalities, which might seem small relative to our 300 million or so inhabitants. However, considering that there were 14,831 homicides in the country that same year, the 43-grand figure looks pretty outrageous. In 2006, automobile accidents were the leading cause of death for all Americans age 3 to 34 (pdf).In a number of states, it's currently illegal to text while driving, and doing so results in a fine. Should we punish texting-drivers with more draconian measures?Photo by Will Etling.