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baltimoresun.com

Use technology to prevent cellphone-related crashes

12:00 PM EDT, October 15, 2013

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The front-page article by Pamela Wood about the prosecution of a young girl whose alleged texting while driving caused a fatal accident highlights a major failure by our elected leaders ("Crash fatality case could be Arundel first," Oct. 14). The article focuses on a 2011 change in the law that makes it easier to levy heavy fines and jail time for a person whose texting causes a fatal car accident. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and state legislators weigh in with opinions about the difficulty of proving this charge or that charge and the lack of justice for the victims' families when sometimes a $500 fine is the only consequence for taking someone's life.

Unfortunately, the prosecutors, state legislators and even the victims' families are completely missing the point. Stiffer penalties won't prevent these types of accidents and the tragic loss of life that too often results. Why not? Because most teenagers and even many early 20-somethings are just plain dumb, dumb, dumb! They can see horrendous tragedies all around them, sometimes even to close friends, and still think it can't happen to them. They think they are capable of texting and driving safely even though others are not. Of course, not all teenagers think this, but take a poll of parents of teenagers and you'll likely find overwhelming agreement. So the deterrent effect of these laws is minimal at best. Prosecutors may get more convictions bolstering their careers, legislators can campaign on a heartstrings issue and garner more votes, and victims' families may feel that justice is done, but in the end we've made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding young persons and we've prevented few if any deaths.

The only thing that can truly prevent these types of tragedies is disabling cell phones while a car is in motion. The technology already exists for smart phones, and no doubt could be developed for other phones as well. Legislators need only pass a law mandating the use of this technology. No doubt there will be some pain in implementing this statute. The technology would probably disable passengers' phones as well as the driver's, and it's possible that implementation would require some action by the phone service providers, which might cost consumers a bit of money. But this is small price to pay for the lives that would be saved.

For our legislators not to act when they have the means to save lives with a relatively small cost to the consumer would be the height of irresponsibility. They have passed laws making the use of phones while driving illegal, but the fact that they are virtually impossible to enforce renders them but a cruel joke. What's worse, the politicians had to know the laws were unenforceable even before they were passed. The only purpose of having the laws would seem to be to support prosecution after a tragedy has occurred. But this helps no one. Not the deceased and not the innocent young girl sitting in jail for three years.

The longer we go without a statute imposing a technological mechanism to enforce the laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving, the more innocent lives will be lost. The blood of every one of those lives is on the hands of our legislators for knowingly passing unenforceable laws when the means of enforcement was available to them. It's time for our legislators to "man up" and correct their fatal blunder.

Pat Hennessy, Woodbine