Phones Don’t Kill People, People Kill People | Blair Bess

Emotionally-charged responses to the recent shooting in Parkland have demonstrated how polarized Americans are over gun control. Emails have poured in from people on both sides of the issue.

One reader, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, included a link to an article that noted “the number of teens who are dying or being injured as a result of texting while driving has skyrocketed as mobile device technology has advanced.”

The subject is worth exploring because there are some correlations.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, legislators in 47 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws that prohibit texting while driving. Despite having laws in place, people aren’t regularly abiding by them and a concerted effort to enforce these laws is not being made.

While many of us are quick to advocate legislation that would make certain weapons illegal and that restrictions regulating the legal purchase of all firearms be instituted, we tend to overlook objects that are seemingly benign, but potentially just as lethal. A wireless device being one of them.

Those who believe no restrictions should be placed on gun ownership cling to the mantra that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” To an extent, they’re right. Most gun owners abide by the law and have a respect for weapons. But in the wrong hands? We’ve seen what can happen.

Most cell phone users also obey the law. Yet, distracted driving, including cell phone usage and texting, is often a factor in automobile accidents resulting in serious injury and death. Cell phones in and of themselves don’t cause these accidents. People do. Good, honest people with wireless devices in hand at the time of a collision.

If you are a parent, child, friend, spouse or family member of someone who has died violently, it doesn’t matter whether your loss stems from the actions of a person holding a gun or a wireless device at the time they were killed. Your loved one is gone. Because someone with access to a perfectly legal implement has abused the privilege of possessing it. Sometimes, laws alone are not enough.

An article in The New York Times reported that lawyers in a texting-related wrongful death suit in Texas unearthed a patent application made by Apple a decade ago for technology that would “lock out” a driver’s phone by using sensors to determine if the phone was moving and in use by the driver. That patent was granted in 2014. Neither Apple or any other company has deployed that technology. Doing so might create a maelstrom of emotion over attempts by big business or government to impinge upon some vague constitutional right or personal liberty.

Deborah Hersman, the former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Times, “We’re so afraid to tell people what they should do that you can kind of get away with murder.”

Carriers like AT&T and Verizon caution against texting while operating a vehicle and offer drivers the means to manually shut down access to texts while on the road. How many of us actually use this feature?

Intelligent, yet rarely-enforced laws alone have been an ineffective solution. Fully-compliant gun and cell phone owners exist, yet a significant number of gun owners choose to modify their weapons. Just as many wireless users would physically “jailbreak” their devices to circumvent built-in restrictions that prevent texting or calling while driving.

There is no quick fix regarding the issues of death by text or death by gun. It’s time manufacturers of firearms and cellular devices, gun owners and cell users, retailers, elected officials and law enforcement put their heads together to work on solutions in both instances in a reasonable, respectful manner. For the sake of our kids, for the sake of all of us. Something to think about, but easier said than done.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

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