What’s more important: $100 or your life?

By Sarah Wojcik

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Last year, I rear-ended a white SUV.

That might seem like an ordinary event, but it could have been avoided had I not been engaged in another ordinary event: texting. Sure, 21 Mile Road was unusually congested and it was raining, but I endangered my life and the lives of others over a matter of social networking that could have waited until I was at my destination. I felt incredibly stupid. Luckily for me, both cars emerged unscathed and the driver understood.

It is now illegal for drivers to text while driving in Michigan, thanks to a law passed on July 1. The law, although difficult to enforce and carries a $100 fine, is a good thing. Texting while driving impairs your ability to operate a vehicle more than driving drunk and is the cause of 25 percent – 1.6 million – of crashes per year, according to a January study by the National Safety Council.

Oprah Winfrey has also spread awareness of the dangers of texting. In an episode aired in January, she showed viewers first-hand accounts of traumatic accidents caused by using a phone and operating a vehicle. She also spearheads a “No Phone Zone” campaign in which individuals pledge to not use phones in the car to “help put an end to distracted driving.”

The human brain has a finite amount of space dedicated to tasks requiring attention. For example, trying to talk to someone on the phone and browsing Facebook at the same time. We’ve all done it; we know how much it annoys the person on the other end of the line. Trying to accomplish two things at once results in both tasks being compromised.

This is a lesson many of us multitaskers need to learn.

Texting is the worst type of distracted driving: It impairs your visual, manual, and cognitive abilities, leaving you to blindly operate a vehicle for seconds at a time. On a freeway, five seconds equals hundreds of yards. That is really scary.

A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute released last month found that the laws against texting while driving may result in a slightly higher accident rate. This could be due to drivers resorting to a more hazardous behavior of hiding their texts to make an effort to evade the $100 fine.

Higher numbers of accidents stemming from drivers’ attempts to conceal their texting is not grounds for lifting the ban. People need to be made aware of the dangers of texting while driving and follow the law for their own safety and the safety of others.

Despite being inconvenient to our increasingly technological, fast-paced, and multitasking generation, the Michigan ban on texting while driving is a necessary step toward saving lives. A return to the idea of driving as a pleasurable pastime might be just what we need.