Scholarship Award: Young Steward of Public Policy

Travis James Clement
Honorable Mention 2008-2009


Scholarship Award

Young Steward of Public Policy

SRP General Dynamics C4 Systems APS The Arizona Republic Tucson Citizen

Honorable Mention 2008-2009

"Sending the Right Message"

By Travis James Clement
Dobson High School
Mesa, Arizona

On September 19, 2007 the City of Phoenix became the first city in Arizona to ban text messaging while driving. This ordinance mirrors the trends of Washington and other states, making the first steps toward passing legislation to reduce and prevent traffic collisions caused by drivers who are distracted by text messaging while operating a vehicle. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that “driver inattention is a factor in 80 percent of motor vehicle crashes and 65 percent of near crashes” (qtd. in Shannon). Furthermore, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study finding “cell phone use to be the most common distraction while driving” (Munshi 2).

While few people feel it is safe to drive while distracted, James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communications at Rutgers University explains “it’s simply human nature to know something is dangerous but to believe one can handle it better than others” (qtd in Bruno 1), The result, according to Matt Richtel of the New York times, is that “mobile texters in the United States sent 158 billion messages last year [2006], up 95 percent from 2005, according to industry statistics” (Richtel 1).

To better understand how to handle the problem of texting-while-driving, it is best to look at its causes and effects. Drivers typically text message when traffic is slow or when stopped at a red light, in an effort to be “efficient” and “make good use of their time.” Though well intended, this is only counter-intuitive because texting-while-driving only further creates traffic problems such as traffic congestion. In explaining the findings of Peter Martin and the University of Utah’s Traffic Lab, Julie Steenhuysen states “people who use cell phones while behind the wheel impede the flow of traffic, clog highways and extend commute times” (Steenhuysen 1). Due to the number of individuals each trying to “make good use of their time” while driving, texters actually slow traffic for themselves and others, as Martin further asserts that these “delays in traffic streams of very small amounts grow into massive numbers when you project it across a highway and across a nation” (Steenhuysen 2). This is only compounded when drivers must respond to the less predictable and more dangerous driving patterns of those who text while drive. According to a Clemson University study, those who text message while driving were “ten times more likely to leave their lane than regular drivers” (Carey 1). This results in traffic further slowing down as other drivers must respond, change, and adjust to the clueless, text-messaging drivers.

The first and best step toward addressing this problem would be a statewide ban on text-messaging while driving. The Social Research Laboratory at Northern Arizona University found that “fifty-four percent of Arizonans favored a ban on speaking on a cell phone while driving. Sixty-two percent favored a ban on text-messaging while driving” (Munshi 2). In weighing the level of driver distraction, impairment, and impact caused by text messaging, Simon Washington, a civil-engineering professor and transportation expert at Arizona State University stated “we prosecute people driving at a blood-alcohol content of 0.08...using cell phones is as dangerous” (Munshi 2). Furthermore, in weighing the effectiveness of a similar, potential New York State ban, State Senator Marcellino states that “just by virtue of knowing that something is against the law, most people will avoid doing it” (O’Connor 2). Because making a law against this practice sends a message to drivers that it is unnecessary and dangerous, the prevalence of this habit is bound to decrease. Coupled with education and enforcement, an Arizona ban on “text messaging while driving” would result in fewer traffic problems, and safer streets for texters and non-texters alike.

Works Cited:

Bruno, Laura. “Stop text messaging, drivers urged.” USA TODAY. 2008

Carey, Liz. “Clemson study shows texting while driving is...well, dumb.” Clemson University. 3 Jan. 2008.

Munshi, Sonu. “Legislator will revive push to ban texting while driving.” The Arizona Republic. 27 Nov. 2007

O’Connor, Anahad. “New York Ban on Texting While Driving Proposed.” The New York Times. 18 Jul. 2007

Richtel, Matt. “ Hands on the Wheel, Not on the BlackBerry Keys.” The New York Times. 12 May 2007

Shannon, Brad. “‘08 set of laws starts today.” The Olympian. 1 Jan. 2008

Steenhuysen, Julie. “Cell phone users tie up traffic: study.” Reuters. 2 Jan. 2008.

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