I am strongly in favor of safe driving. Who isn’t?

It troubles me that so many Mainers are driving with cell phones to their ears, whether they are in traffic, going through an intersection, passing another vehicle, or just out on a country road. Texting while driving seems even more dangerous and laws are being written left and right to curtail its practice.

However, enforcement of “anti-texting” laws begs the question of what constitutes “texting,” how it is enforced, and how does texting differ from any number of other distractions that can cause a driver to take his full concentration off the road, and potentially cause an accident.

We have, clearly, not forbidden all driver distractions. Just ask any parent whether young kids in the back seat have ever been a source of distraction. Most vehicles sold in the U.S.A. (though not in every country) have a multitude of cup holders due to the ubiquity of drinking while driving (non-alcoholic beverages we hope).

As a physician, I am frequently paged while driving. Does looking at my pager message constitute texting?

Does dialing a cell phone constitute texting? If not, why not? If yes, how can that be enforced?


Does having voice-activated texting on a phone constitute texting when initiated? My phone can answer a text without any typing on my part, just by verbal command. Is that an acceptable alternative? How would the enforcer know whether the letters were inputted by my voice or my finger?

Most driver distractions can be eliminated if we choose to do so.

Years ago, I participated in a couple of performance driving courses. In order to participate, the interior of the car had to be completely emptied. No mats to get caught behind an accelerator or brake pedal, nothing on the visors or mirror to come loose, nothing in the glove compartment to make noise, nothing loose in the entire interior, and nothing attached to any window. No radio allowed and, obviously, no cell phone.

The purpose was to have nothing in the vehicle that could divert your complete attention from the road or the other vehicles you were sharing it with. Eyes open, both hands on the wheel, in a safe and well maintained vehicle. Above all, leave the emotion at home.

In professional driving, these skills have been, by and large, remarkably successful maintaining safety under the most grueling conditions. The public, however, has allowed compromises to optimal driving techniques, and for good reason. However, the extent of those compromises, and the laws we make curtailing them, need to be carefully thought out and scrutinized.

If driving with a cell phone to your ear is OK, and if smoking in the car is legal, are you allowed to do both simultaneously?

These and other questions will be answered by elected representatives in the Legislature. I hope they will hold themselves and the police officers who enforce the laws to the same standards. I hope they will also realize that, whatever compromises are deemed acceptable for the convenience of the public, they will most certainly cost some lives.

The only sure speed to prevent an accident is zero miles per hour.

William Phillips, MD, FACC, of Auburn practices with Central Maine Heart Associates in Lewiston.

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