Texting only one driver distraction

Friday, January 8, 2010

It seems so obvious we wonder why it requires a law to enforce it.

But if it takes a law to prevent texting while driving -- teen drivers with provisional licenses already are banned from doing so -- so be it.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff has introduced a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense -- an officer who sees you doing so could pull you over without needing any other reason.

Since 2002, there have been 141 accidents caused by mobile-phone distractions, 68 of them including injuries and one a fatality. Our bet is the number is actually higher.

We shudder when seeing drivers negotiating slippery streets in bad weather while just talking on a cell phone, let alone concentrating on the tiny keypad and screen required for texting.

But is a specific law required? Why couldn't strict enforcement of careless driving laws could cover texting and a wide variety of other dangerous activities? Or are authorities considering some sort of electronic monitoring system to help with enforcement?

We don't know, but we know safety-minded drivers and law enforcement officials are fighting an uphill battle.

More and more electronic distractions are finding their way onto the actual dashboards of new cars.

Sure, there's a disclaimer discouraging drivers from watching the screen instead of the road, but such devices have moved far beyond the simple directions provided by a conventional GPS.

Audi, for instance, has a system that lets you pull up Wikkipedia information about your destination, or reviews and photos of attractions and animated directions on how to get there. Others show the driver a map while playing a video for someone in the back seat.

Progress in miniaturized electronics, however, is sure to continue to provide new distractions for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately, of course, it's up to the driver to operate the vehicle safely. Let's hope the same ingenuity that provides entertainment and information on the go can be brought to bear on the task of helping travelers arrive safely at their destinations.

Editorial Roundup

Exposing a deep, dark secret

Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN -- How on earth could a retirement plan for the state Department of Labor have run up a $23 million funding gap without someone raising a public alarm?

The bombshell disclosure shakes confidence in state government. Apparently state officials cannot keep track of money even when the sums reach the eight-digit range. ...

Labor Commissioner Catherine Lang, who took over the office in September 2008, should be credited for bringing the mammoth problem to light this month.

Lang said the existence of the fund was a "deep, dark secret." The plan has $68 million in assets and $91 million in actuarial liabilities.

Now state senators may have to bail out the retirement fund with additional tax dollars.

If anyone should be held accountable for the fund's unknown existence, it apparently would be previous Labor Commissioner Fernando "Butch" Lecuona. ...

Lecuona resigned this year after state officials discovered the department had overspent about $7 million in federal funds. ...

Unlike other state retirement plans, the fund is not managed by either the state investment board or the Public Employees Retirement Board.

But that set of facts is no excuse for keeping the Labor Department retirement plan out of sight and out of mind. ...

The lesson that all public officials should draw from this is that the public's business is always best conducted out in the open. If someone had dragged this matter in front of the public's eyes years ago, it wouldn't have mushroomed into a $23 million problem.

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