Oprah and me.
Well, not exactly. I've never met the queen of daytime television, but we have a common cause. It's to stop people from texting while driving.
Eleven years ago, I wrote a column advocating stiff penalties for using a cell phone while driving. It's dangerous; it's unsafe; it can hurt people; it can kill people. I didn't get into texting; it wasn't in vogue in those days. But all the dangers of phoning certainly go double for texting.
Now, Oprah Winfrey has entered the fray with a campaign aimed specifically at young drivers because they are the biggest abusers of texting. No doubt, her program will have a lot more influence than my column. But, hey, remember: I was first.
Oprah's program was rerun in prime time by a local television station. It was hard-hitting and touching. It was hard-hitting because she drove home her message in typical Oprah style and it was touching for her poignant chats with people who had lost loved ones in crashes caused by an inattentive, texting youngster.
Teens are her target
She interviewed a 23-year-old man who had killed two people in a crash caused by his distraction while texting. The kid almost lost it as he replied, but he left no doubt that the tragedy will be high in his mind every day of his life. Touching? It sure touched me.
Oprah is wise to aim her message at teenagers because they are the greatest practitioners of the texting fad. And all too many of them see nothing wrong with texting while driving.
A local TV reporter talked recently with a 15-year-old girl named Melissa. Melissa is a driver-in-training, which means that she can drive only when a licensed driver sits beside her. She will get her full license at 16.
Melissa stepped in on the side of the texting drivers. She said she does it and sees nothing wrong with it because “I'm a safe driver.”
Of course she is.
Stiff penalties needed
I hope I never meet Melissa on the road when she is texting a big secret to her girlfriend Cindy.
Since my column appeared in 1999, laws regarding texting or use of cell phones while driving have been adopted by 19 states. Please, I take no credit for that, but I wonder what's the holdup in the other 31?
Many of those laws are flawed; they consider texting or phoning a secondary offense. That is, if a police officer stops a motorist for a primary offense like speeding and notices that the driver is phoning or texting, the officer may write a second ticket.
Not good enough!
Phoning or texting while driving should be a primary offense, and the penalties should be stiff. Perhaps a $250 fine for the first offense, and three-month or six-month license suspension for the second. A third offense? My, my. Both of the above plus a few months in the slammer.
I think Oprah would agree.