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Joe Henderson Columns

Texting just not worth 7-car pileup

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Published:   |   Updated: March 17, 2013 at 03:35 PM

I was headed home the other day on Interstate 4, just out of the junction. Traffic was heavy but moving fairly well. Vehicles were weaving in and out of any open space to pick up a little speed, kind of like NASCAR with SUVs.

Well, this car in the far left lane was weaving all over the place. It would speed up a little, then suddenly slow way down. It wobbled toward the left, then back to the right. Frankly, I thought the driver might be drunk, but as I glanced quickly while passing by there was something you couldn't help but see.

* * * * *

It was her cellphone, pinned with one hand against the steering wheel. Hopefully, she was steering the vehicle with the other.

She appeared to have her eyes focused on the screen. She was maybe doing 50-55 mph and typing away on a text message that was absolutely vital, I'm sure. Maybe it was something like, "OMG! That 18-wheeler just stopped right in front of m ….."

It would be nice to say that's the first time something like that happened, but unfortunately it's just the latest example of attention-challenged dopes endangering themselves and others. A lot of people in our fair state think there ought to be a law against it, and soon there finally could be.

* * * * *

Separate bills are working through the state House and Senate to address texting while driving. Unlike other years, where similar bills died over concerns about the infringement of (cough) personal freedom, the Legislature might work up enough gumption this time to pass something.

That would finally bring Florida even with 39 other states that already have outright bans or restrictions on the practice. It can't be pointed out often enough the list includes New Hampshire, where the state motto, for cripes sake, is "Live Free or Die."

Then again, it's never over 'til lawmakers push the "send" button. The text ban treaty has been kicking around the hallowed halls of Tallahassee for several years, sometimes passing committees (as this year) before running out of juice.

Last year, I wrote a column supporting the bill and it prompted an email from one dedicated follower that stuck with me so I saved it for just such an occasion as this. The reader noted there are already laws against reckless and/or careless driving.

I can see his point that either one ought to cover a texting ban since the practice, most certainly, is reckless and careless. The dedicated reader also threw in a jab about the "nanny state" though, and that's where he lost me.

When you're maneuvering something with 200 horsepower through a finite space filled with similar machines, society has a right to demand that your full attention be devoted to the task at hand.

To wit:

There are penalties if you drive too fast.

There are penalties if you drive too slowly.

There are penalties for tailgating or running a red light.

There are penalties for driving if you're drunk.

The nanny demands you have a license to presumably prove you know how to operate a vehicle.

And it's about darned time the nanny told you that no text message or email is worth causing a seven-car pileup that will have them working overtime at the morgue.

A law to ban texting while driving is well overdue, and it's time the Legislature gets that message – although, hopefully, not when any of them are behind the wheel. Nanny wouldn't like that.

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