Cellphones and smart devices put a world of information at our fingertips and allow communication to flow endlessly. Before, only doctors had to be “on call” at all times. Now, everyone with a smartphone is. In September of 2017, the Texas Legislature passed a law that prohibits the use of a wireless communications device for electronic messaging while driving statewide. In the United States, 1 in every 4 car accidents is caused by distracted driving because of cellphone use (Schumaker).
The growing phenomenon of texting behind the wheel is portrayed in the political cartoon by Jeff Parker titled, “Driving While Dialing”, published on October 1, 2009, in Florida Today. In the cartoon, a person texting on their smartphone is illustrated while driving into pedestrians and another vehicle. An elderly lady is one of the pedestrians depicted being hit by the car, with her groceries flying in the air above her. Parker utilizes the elderly lady, the main victim of the crash, as a representative of older generations and the cell phone user, a millennial, as a figure representing younger generations. Parker illustrates millennials literally running over the older generations carelessly, so it can be concluded that he agrees with the stereotype of millennials being largely indifferent and narcissistic. A cyclist is also hit by the car, but only their feet are pictured above the car as the victim is launched off of their bicycle. Ahead of the driver, is a man in another vehicle who is caught by surprise as the car heads towards him. In the rear-view mirror, another man can be seen; the man seems to be furious at the distracted driver. The reckless driver appears to be using a Sidekick LX 2009 smartphone. This model debuted under carrier T-Mobile and popularized the use of mobile Internet in the late 2000’s. This concept of mobile internet became a key selling point for tech companies in the coming decade (Hahn).
A study conducted in 2016 by Ioannis Pavlidis from the University of Houston explored driver behavior when absent-minded, emotionally charged or when they are engaged in texting (Merkl). The study found that when driving with certain levels of distraction, drivers utilize a “sixth sense” that allows them to perceive risk and drive with more caution. The study concluded that people lose this vital level of awareness almost entirely when texting. In fact, some research argues that drivers who text are just as impaired as people who drive while drunk. Research by U.S. government demonstrates that texting while driving “by far the most alarming distraction” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
In 2011, the Texas Legislature was successful in passing a statewide ban on cellphone use while driving. Despite overwhelming public support, the ban was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry (Rasansky). Similarly, in 2015, House Bill 80, a bill aimed at banning texting and driving, was introduced. The bill, although approved by the Texas House panel, was turned down in the Senate before becoming a law. By this time, local governments had already passed bans on cellphone use while driving in their cities. In May of 2017, the Texas Legislature finally fully passed House Bill 62. The Texas House Bill 62 of 2017 states that the “use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle (is) a criminal offense.” First-time offenders of the law could be fined up to $99 and consequently, $200 for a repeat offense (Texas Department of Transportation).
Modern day issues of public safety that exist in Texas have significant connections to the decisions made in the Texas Legislature in the late 1930’s. The political cartoon by John Knott titled, “Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars”, published on February 27, 1938, in the Dallas Morning News, illustrates the manifesting danger caused by reckless drivers. Rising fatal car accidents and traffic safety in the late 1930’s caught the attention of legislators in Texas and all over the country. In the 1930’s the issue of a small device that communicates you with the world distracting drivers was nonexistent, let alone comprehensible. Although the technology in cars and communication has changed drastically since then, the fundamental act of driving an automobile and the risks accompanied by it remain the same. The journal article, “A Theoretical Field-Analysis of Automobile-Driving” by James J. Gibson and Laurence E. Crooks states that of the skill demanded by contemporary civilization, driving an automobile is the most important to humans because a defect in it has the greatest threat to our lives.
The law that was recently passed by the Texas Legislature comes in a time where the public desperately needs to be saved from themselves through legal guidance. As technology continues to advance, old problems such as risky driving, become more complex. More and more, cell phones are drawing our eyes away from the road. In his cartoon, Jeff Parker epitomizes modern day distracted driving and the imminent danger it causes.
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Gibson, James J., and Laurence E. Crooks. A Theoretical Field-Analysis of Automobile-Driving. 1938.
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Hahn, Jason Duaine. “The History of the Sidekick: The Coolest Smartphone of All Time.” Complex, 20 Sept. 2016.
Merkl, Lisa. “A Sixth Sense Protects Drivers except When Texting.” University of Houston, 7 Aug. 2017.
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