Distracted driving deserves our scorn

By Deb Miller
Some important measures have been taken this year to improve traffic safety in Kansas.
First, we have a new transportation program that will allow us to preserve our good roads and make strategic improvements. And, we now have two well-publicized laws that will save lives and prevent injuries--the primary seat belt law and the ban on texting while driving. The laws are welcome, if overdue.
But for all the good the new program and laws will have on Kansans’ health, they aren’t nearly as important as one, often-overlooked factor--personal responsibility.
The best-engineered road can’t prevent a crash if a driver is less focused on driving than he or she is on searching for a new tune, disciplining children or putting ketchup on a French fry. A seat belt law won’t save lives or prevent additional insurance and health costs for all of us if drivers and passengers still refuse to buckle up. And a texting ban won’t be as effective as it should be if we fail to be outraged by such behavior.
A third of all crashes in Kansas over the past five years involved driver inattention or driver distraction--such as use of a cell phone. That number is frustrating for all of us in the transportation business because we know so many crashes can be prevented if drivers just take seriously the responsibility of driving.
Few things irritate me more than to look over at the driver in the next lane and see that person texting behind the wheel. We as fellow travelers--not as a governmental entity--need to figure out how to make those who still text and drive social pariahs. Instead of being fascinated by their dexterity or their need to stay so connected with friends, we need to be appalled.
Societal attitudes can change behavior and it happened with littering a few decades back. I remember when very few people even raised an eyebrow about the tons of trash that were thrown out of car windows. Years of education campaigns and some powerful TV commercials (anyone remember the &#8220; <a href="http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/the-crying-indian-full-commercial-keep-america-beautiful/d2e27211f238a7a1d14dd2e27211f238a7a1d14d-165784650517?q=crying%20indian&amp;FORM=VIRE2&amp;adlt=strict">Crying Indian </a>&#8221; message?) convinced the nation that littering and litterers were not acceptable. When that commercial aired back in my high school days I considered littering a reason not to date a guy!
We need to adopt that same attitude about those who think it’s OK to text while driving. Inattentive and distracted driving put all of us at risk. That’s not acceptable and we should treat it like we would any other anti-social behavior.

Deb Miller is Kansas Secretary of Transportation. 

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