“Consider three things, and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you, a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all of your deeds written down in a book.”
—Pirkei Avot 2:1
The rise in popularity of cellular telephones has brought about dangerous behavior by an alarming number of drivers with the use of these devices while behind the wheel. An emerging body of research shows that distracted driving, including but not limited to texting, calling, and using other devices while at the wheel, significantly increases the risk of an accident. For example, one study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving without distractions.
Distracted driving poses serious risks not only to the driver, but also to passengers in that car, to other drivers and passengers on the road, to pedestrians and cyclists, and to the community at large. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2013, driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes and crashes resulting in an injury in the United States, killing 3,154 people and injuring 424,000 people. These distractions are not unique to the United States; international research shows that 20 to 30 percent of all collisions involve driver distraction.
Driving distractions can take a variety of forms or a combination thereof: visual, taking a driver’s eyes off the road; manual, taking a driver’s hands off the wheel, or cognitive, taking a driver’s mind off driving. Calling, texting and other distracting activities can all create dangers on the road, and texting while driving is especially dangerous as it combines all three types of distraction. Though hands-free calling may not encompass as many types of distractions as texting, research indicates that the cognitive distraction of having a hands-free conversation causes drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help avoid a crash.
As of June 2015, 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, and 46 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers. Many, but not all of these laws are primary enforcement laws, which allows law enforcement to cite a driver for a violation of these laws even if no other traffic violation occurs. Of the remaining four states, two prohibit text messaging by novice drivers, and one prohibits texting by school bus drivers. Though 38 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. In Canada, all 10 provinces have some sort of cell phone limitation or distracted driving legislation in place.
Though state and provincial laws vary on whether, or to what extent they prohibit cell phone use or texting while driving, a wide range of public health and safety oversight organizations, including the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Federal Communications Commission, advise against cell phone use while driving, whether by recommending states ban dangerous behaviors or by counseling individual drivers not to use devices while driving, regardless of current law.
Texting or talking on the phone while driving is not limited to young people, though statistics and research emphasize the participation in and impact of these behaviors on young drivers. Eleven percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 who survived an automobile accident admitted they were sending or receiving texts at the time of the crash. From a passenger’s perspective, a Pew survey found that 40 percent of all American teens report they have been in a car whose driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger—whether that driver was a peer or an adult.
Given the prevalence and clear dangers of distracted driving, Women of Reform Judaism calls upon its sisterhoods to:
- Have members pledge not to text or use a hand-held cell phone while driving, and to limit hands-free phone conversations only to instances of absolute necessity.
- Launch a congregation-wide campaign to have others—including adults, teens, and soon-to-be drivers—take the pledge.
- Educate members about the dangers of distracted driving through programming and partnerships with others in the synagogue and community, and encourage them to lead by example by committing not to use cell phones while driving.
- Partner with their synagogue’s religious school and youth group, or with other community groups that reach young people, to educate students about the dangers of distracted driving.
- Urge the passage of legislation to promote safe driving, including but not limited to reasonable, enforcement laws and other policies to deter and appropriately punish distracted driving.
- Work with the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) at the North American and international levels to educate drivers about the impact of distracted driving and encourage individuals to pledge not to use cell phones while driving.