“It’s convenient,” said Robert Smith, 22, a recent college graduate in Windham, Me. He says he regularly texts and drives even though he recognizes that it is a serious risk. He would rather text, he said, than take time on a phone call.

“I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs,” he said, adding that he often has exchanges of 10 messages or more. Sometimes, “I’ll look up and realize there’s a car sitting there and swerve around it.”

New York Times, July 27

Get him off the road. Now.

Ever since the Maine Turnpike crash in 2005 that killed Tina Turcotte, a new found emphasis has been placed on the bad habits of drivers. What’s been discovered is that bad driving habits can become ingrained. Bad drivers will stay bad drivers.

Remember Walter Noble, of the multiple drunken driving incidents and revoked license fame in Franklin County? He compiled a driving record so swollen with infractions and arrests it became apparent that nothing short of spike strips would stop him.

There have been investigations of the dangers of the suspended drivers still cruising Maine roads. A series in the Portland Press Herald in 2008 found, for example, crashes involving these drivers were six times more likely to cause a death.

The evidence supports two conclusions: that drivers who display regular disregard for rules of the road, or just smart driving practices, are more dangerous to themselves and others. Plus, this behavior is hard to change, as evidenced by myriad examples of repeat offenders.

Maine has cracked down on the worst, with policies like Tina’s Law — named for Turcotte — which stiffened punishments for repeat, suspended drivers. Yet this is a reactive policy; what’s also necessary are proactive policies to ensure drivers never see Tina’s Law.

Texting is a prime arena for this. We hope Mr. Smith is an exception, not the rule, but if his cavalier approach to typing while driving becomes widespread, the roads of Maine have just become more perilous.

The article in which Smith was quoted talked about a study of long-haul truckers who texted while driving. Researchers found texting, as compared to other habits that distract drivers, is exponentially more dangerous than once thought.

Each text message can sway a driver’s attention for five full seconds, which means Mr. Smith, during an average commute, may stop watching the road ahead for almost a minute. Then, by dumb luck it seems, he’ll look up and realize he’s barreling toward a stopped vehicle.

Texting is unsafe. Lawmakers in Maine should ban it specifically (not just distracted driving). Drivers should be told of its dangers and punished if caught doing it. It is a safety issue. It’s common sense. As Smith told the Times, “I’m pretty sure that someday [my behavior is] going to come back to bite me.”

So true. Or even worse, Mr. Smith, you could end up killing somebody else.

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