My Turn: Time to put the brakes on these killers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 1, 2012

By Monte Elliott

Throughout history, trained killers have been applauded and exalted. For thousands of years, in every culture on earth, people who were trained to kill have been heroes. They have been warriors and soldiers who have defended the helpless, the innocent victims and the homeland, wherever that was, whenever the age and regardless of the culture.
But in our culture today, we are facing a totally new kind of “trained killer” … people who talk on their cell phones while driving. They are not killers intentionally, but hundreds of dead people are dead and thousands injured in accidents caused by drivers using a cell phone.
Check out traffic accident statistics about people who talk on their cell phones and kill or injure people every day! Just recently, there was a news story about two young brothers were killed by a delivery driver talking on his cell phone. And there is a bicycle event taking place soon in memory of a rider killed by a distracted driver. This issue is different from a political disagreement or a debate over county commissioners’ prayers. This is about people killing and maiming other people. It’s the real deal.
These people who drive and talk on their cell phones are trained. They are trained to think that a meaningless conversation on their cell phone is more important than the lives of the people in the vehicle at the next intersection, more important than the pedestrian at the crosswalk, more important than the bicycle rider on the shoulder of the road. They’ve trained themselves not to care that their one ton vehicle traveling at 30 or 50 miles per hour has the potential to kill countless innocent victims.
How technologically awesome is it that you can drive down the highway and talk to someone else in the next town or state or even on the other side of the ocean? George Washington and Lewis and Clark would be amazed, wouldn’t they?
In the state of California you will be fined $180 for your first offense of driving and talking on your cell phone. Other states also have laws against driving and talking on cell phones. (In North Carolina, drivers under 18 are banned from cell phone use.) And laws and law enforcement could make a lot of difference — they could save hundreds of lives. Any state which does not have severe penalties for people driving while talking on their cell phones is doing an injustice to the people who DON’T do it.
There are a few easy ways to punish people for talking on their cell phones while driving. The No. 1 way would be to confiscate the cell phone of every person caught talking while driving. Take the cell phone away for 60 days. For millions of people today that would be worse than an actual fine! Technology could enable a police officer to get the cell phone number of an offender and render it useless, for however long, with little effort. These simple laws could be easily and effectively enforced, with little cost to the rest of us.
But there are a few things the rest of us could do, too. As people who know the danger of distracted drivers, we could use a few behaviors of our own to change things. Honk! Yup, honk at the person you’re driving alongside of who isn’t paying attention to what’s going on around him because he’s on the cell phone. If you get their attention, point an accusing finger at them! Let people know that what they’re doing is unacceptable because it risks others’ lives.
Those of us who do not drive and talk on cell phones need to send a message to those who do! We don’t need to wait for lawmakers to pass laws. We can do something today, and tomorrow! We can bring cell-phone offenders to the attention of all the other drivers in the vicinity. So, honk! Wave! Point! Yell! Do something!
Because if we don’t … we could be the next victims of our culture’s trained killers. The next victim might be your mother or son or daughter. The next victim might be you!
And finally, if you’re the one talking on the cell phone while driving, you may be the next child killer. You may be the person who devastates a family forever.
Next time your cell phone rings while you’re driving or the next time you think you need to call someone while driving, think again. Please! Pull over into a parking lot or to the side of the road. Then talk all you want.
Monte Elliott lives in Salisbury.