Sunday, June 19, 2011

Governor Rick Perry Sends Message - Texans Have a Right to Text While Driving

In the Saturday, June18, 2011 issue of the San Antonio Express-News, Gary Sharrer reported: "Gov. Rick Perry vetoed legislation Friday that would have banned texting while driving because he views it as a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.'"

Amazing, but true. I suppose he'd get rid of the law requiring people to buckle their seat belts, if he could. What's the difference? Both laws are intended to save lives. Both "micromanage" the behavior of adults.

By vetoing the bill, he sends the message that texting while driving is OK, even though he claims to believe the opposite. Either he doesn't care whether people die from inattention while driving due to texting, or he does care but is ignorant of why texting while driving is a danger. I just can't believe he's that callous. My theory is he's just ignorant.

I imagined a scenario where he's out hunting with his rocker and gun rights activist friend, Ted Nugent, on Nugent's ranch.

Nugent: "Hey Rick Baby, what's this b......t I hear about the legislature passing a bill banning texting while driving?"

Perry: "Yup. It's on my desk."

Nugent: "Well, g.....n, Rick. What's the deal? What liberal m..........r came up with this stupid idea?"

Perry: "The legislature is mostly Republican, Ted."

Nugent: "I don't give a s..t, Rick. Nobody's gonna keep me from texting in my car. I have a right to do anything I want in my car. What's the state of Texas coming to? What are you going to do about it, Rick?"

Perry: "I'm going to veto it, that's what."

Nugent: "Well all right, then."

Of course this conversation or anything like it never happened, at least not to my knowledge.

But here's what Perry doesn't know about why texting while driving is so dangerous. It has to with some well-known facts about how the brain handles information. It's this:

The human brain can focus conscious awareness on only one thing at a time. 

That's right. It's impossible to pay attention to two things simultaneously. Some people claim to be able to do it, but they're mistaken. The classic example is a pianist playing a song while carrying on a conversation with a listener. It looks like he's paying attention to both the song and the conversation simultaneously. But he's not. He's memorized the piece, he's played it countless times before, and he's playing now it automatically without thinking about it. His brain is working outside of conscious attention to play the song. This enables the pianist to talk back and forth with the listener. He might occasionally shift his attention to the piano, but during those brief seconds he doesn't hear everything the speaker says.

Unconsciously, your brain can do lots of things simultaneously. But consciously, it can pay attention to only one thing at a time. 

This physical, biological limitation is a scientifically proven fact. It no doubt exists to enable problem solving. If we could be aware of everything at once, our consciousness would be flooded with so much input that our brains couldn't sort through it in time to deal with it. But the requirement to focus consciously on one thing enables us to quickly figure out how to deal with it. It's actually a survival mechanism.

So when a driver is concentrating on keying in the right letters of a text message, guess what he has no awareness of. That's right. He won't notice changes in the traffic around him, like a turn in the road, a sign posting reduced speed, a pedestrian trying to cross, or a car braking.

The same is true of voice conversations on a cell phone, even the "hands-free" type. When you're truly paying attention to what's being said, you lose awareness of everything else. The best you can do is switch your awareness back and forth, which makes for inept conversation and dangerous driving.

Drunk drivers have impaired awareness of the road. Texters - while they're typing in text - have no awareness of the road at all. Now one technique might be to type in one letter, then quickly look back at the road. Then look away to type in another letter, etc. That way, your awareness of the road ahead would go blank for only two or three seconds at a time. This best-case scenario causes more impaired perception than drunk driving. You could look up and realize that you should have been braking and it would be too late. It's an unsettling thought.

In all fairness, Rick Perry is not the only person ignorant of the real reason texting while driving is dangerous. I've explained this to many people and not one of them was aware if it. They thanked me, but I don't know how many of them stopped texting while driving. You know how people have a way of shoving reality out of their minds...

That's why it needs to be against the law. And oh yeah, while they're at it, don't just make it illegal. Why not tell the public the real reason it's so dangerous? People do it because they're ignorant.

Like our governor.

Casting about looking for people with their feet on the ground and eyes open to the real world, I found this cute song.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .


Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is so true:
The human brain can focus conscious awareness on only one thing at a time.

I've seen countless examples of dangerous driving, while in my car, watching other drivers on cell phones.

Yes, your governor is ignorant.

An Ordinary American said...

I swear, if I EVER meet the PhD who hasn't been a "CEO" of some self-help/advice/counseling/consulting garage-based business, I might just go out and buy a lottery ticket.

Long on academia, theory and hypothesis--short on actual blood, sweat and tears experience.

The texting bill was dumb and for several reasons. Biggest one being that idiots will STILL continue to text and drive, only if they know it is now "against the law" they will hold the phone down even lower, meaning they'll have to duck their head even lower and for longer periods of time.

I like the idea of "have a wreck while texting and you get an automatic five years in prison. Period."

There. Done. Everyone KNOWS what both the law AND the punishment will be. NO defense. Pull up the phone records. Oh, you were texting? GUILTY. FIVE YEARS.

See ya.

Second reason this was a stupid bill is I can also tell that you and your "PhD" pals have never been in law enforcement.

Those folks--and I used to be one with the DOJ right after the military--have more dangerous people to pay attention to.

You know, robbers and rapists and muggers and murderers and drug-dealers, et al.

Glad to see common sense in academia still hasn't arrived.


Sarcastic Bastard said...

Angry much?

Denny Coates said...

Ha! I'm not an academic, just a writer. True, I never served in law enforcement, but I served in combat in a 20-year military career. The irony is, I distrust academics almost as much as AOA does.

But choosing to react with all this anger! Goodness. There are ways to express one's opinion on a rational level, without disparaging whole groups of well-intentioned people. Oh, well, this isn't the first time I've had a response like this, and it won't be the last.

I think what's important to me is that even though it's hard to prove, I believe a lot of people die because of texting while driving. Kind of like drunk driving. Driving while under the influence of a distracting electronic device.

But Perry didn't veto the bill because the highway patrol has more important issues to concentrate on. According to his statement, he vetoed the bill because he believes trying to control texting while driving is intrusive on human freedom. If Perry had understood the problem, maybe he could have helped to craft an even better bill.

Denny Coates said...

Turns out AOA - An Ordinary American - has firm opinions on lots of things. Anyone interested can check his blog -

Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

Denny, the worst part is it puts other people at risk. If I were texting when driving, I know I would cause an accident because I am very aware my brain focuses on one thing at a time that requires high level attention. If Rick's wife and children were in the opposite car, he would begin to sing a different tune.

shareandi said...

I really think the bill should be pushed in again for signing into law, reasons emphasized some more.

It's not about the one drunk or texting. It's about the hazarding of some other innocent road user's life.

We have overemphasized personal freedom so much so that we cannot listen to each other anymore, otherwise we're judged intrusive. Sad enough, no matter how intelligent we may be, we always need a counter and better opinion all the time.

Texting while driving, even phoning while driving, really should be outlawed and enforced. There's no micromanaging here.

Thanks, Mr Coates, for sharing again.

Freedom Junkie said...

We need fewer laws, not more. There are already laws about reckless driving, distracted driving, etc. Enforce those. Don't ban holding and looking at cell phones.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so then a law against tweeting while driving? A law against facebooking while driving, video games, googling? Where would it end? If the cop pulls you over and says - I saw you were texting while driving - you can just say - oh no sir, I was tweeting - not texting - and last I checked, tweeting while driving is still legal.
More laws are never the answer.
Better parenting is usually a good answer. My parents taught me to not do stupid things. I don't need to pay politicians to parent me.
I appreciate my governor from time to time - and this is one of those times.