Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 | 2 a.m.
A new law took effect Saturday that makes it illegal to text or use a handheld cellphone while driving. We have received several letters and comments complaining about the law. On Tuesday, we talked to state Sen. Shirley Breeden, a retired school administrator and the author of the law, to discuss it. This is a condensed version of the conversation.
Breeden on the reaction she has received:
I’ve received mostly positive phone calls and e-mails. ... It’s going to be a good thing. It’s going to save lives. Most people think if it’s against the law, they’re not going to do it.
Some people argue that the law isn’t needed because of the state has a law regulating distracted driving. Her thoughts:
When I was working with law enforcement originally in the first session in 2009, they said, “Sen. Breeden, we have distracted driving,” because at that time the bill was just for texting. I said, “Well, explain then what you look for in distracted driving.” They said when someone is weaving, crossing the line and they go outside the line. Maybe they weren’t as cognizant of pulling those folks over. Maybe this will help.
We asked about the studies that have indicated that using a hands-free device isn’t much, if any, safer than using a handheld phone. She didn’t dispute the studies, but she said logically the law makes sense.
If you think about it, you have one hand off the wheel when you’re holding a phone in your hand. Your reaction time is slower. ... Your mind’s not on the road, your hand’s not on the wheel, and if you’re in a deep conversation you’re not paying attention at all.
So why not ban coffee cups, radios, etc.?
My car is touch-button for the radio, as most cars are, but you’re not focused on it (the radio) for 20 minutes (like a phone call). It’s instantaneous. ...
And holding a coffee cup? I don’t know. I don’t do it. Or even if I have water in the car, I don’t drink when I drive.
Are you distracted? Yes. Then I think in those cases law enforcement needs to be looking for those people as well.
On whether she was trying to prevent distracted driving before it happens:
(Distracted driving) is dangerous.
It kills innocent lives. ... It shatters families. If we can do something to help prevent that, I’m all for that.
On her own cellphone use in her car:
My phone is programmed into my car. I always have (used hands-free), but I can really say I’m not on it a lot. When it rings, I can push the button on my steering wheel.
On whether she drinks coffee or water in the car:
If I take a drink of water, it’s at a stop light. But to hold it in my hand, how do you take the cap off (while driving)? It’s hard to do that.
On why she picked this issue:
I realized when I bought my Blackberry. Back when I was campaigning, people were texting me and I could not drive and try to look at my phone, and I had no luck answering them.
I told them don’t expect me to call you or text you back while I’m driving. I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. And you’re always dodging folks (on the road) you know are on the phone. So it’s like, “Hang up your phone and drive. Pay attention to the road.” So that’s what got me into it.
Who knew I would be fighting such an uphill battle?
On the law and personal rights:
There are some people who say, “You’re infringing on my rights.” I try to tell people everybody drives. It’s not like we’re out there on the road alone.
So in other words, our actions affect others?