Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Perry: Everything's better in Texas! Except for traffic safety!

Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed legislation Friday that would have outlawed texting and driving. In doing so, he has put a damper on a rather serious education and enforcement effort that Texas public health officials are trying to promote.

Hmm, this seems like a smart plan!
Perry vetoes texting ban

It's well-known that enforcement is an important component when considering behavior change. Educational messages, when presented on their own, rarely result in behavior modification. This is especially true in traffic safety situations, including drowsy driving and drunk driving scenarios. Governor Perry, in vetoing this bill, is ignoring one of the most valuable tenets of public health: Policy must support advocacy.

Check out this site from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety: IIHS Q&A's about alcohol enforcement

This is a great resource for the layperson who's interested in learning about general principles of traffic enforcement.

The only way you're going to get drunk drivers to sober up is through (a) increased enforcement and (b) the perception of increased enforcement. If people think they're more likely to get caught, they're less likely to engage in the behavior. This is reinforced by the basic concept of risk management, which balances the likelihood of an event with the severity of its consequences. We are far more interested in risky behavior if adverse consequences are infrequent.

Some might argue that, since enforcement for texting laws is so low in other states, having such a law on the books is irrelevant and wasteful. Again, however, the actual enforcement itself can be supplemented by efforts to increase the perception of risk. "If you text and drive, you'll be caught and get in huge trouble," would be an effective message if accompanied by even minimal increases in police officer vigilance.

The level of permissiveness that this veto demonstrates is boggling. Perry calls texting laws "micro-management of adult behavior." Well, if that's micro-managing, then we should all have the freedom to drive completely blitzed, because We're AMERICAN, dammit! Perhaps allowing blind people to drive would be wise, too, by this logic, because we wouldn't want to impede anyone's basic rights.

Not only that, but did Perry consider the impact that this law will have on individuals who populate our state's crosswalks and bike lanes? This law isn't just about protecting drivers; it's about protecting all of us.

And, on a final note, is driving a vehicle a basic right? Although many environments (particularly those of the rural persuasion) are conducive to individual vehicle ownership, a lot of people get by every day without using a car. It's hard for me to believe that, if the Founding Fathers lived today, they would include the Right to Private Transportation in the Constitution.

Ultimately, Perry is pandering to his political constitutents to further anti-government sentiment and strengthen his bid for the White House. It's infuriating that the people making these very important decisions are so obviously poorly informed ... and poorly motivated.

ETA 6/27/11:
Reading a JAMA article today about distracted driving, and the author brought up the topic of Constitutionality ... that is, can the government interfere with what drivers do inside their vehicles to improve highway safety. The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Courts have consistently upheld mandates on drivers (eg, seat belts and motorcycle helments), and would surely find that the government's interests in protecting the population from distracted drivers outweigh individual liberties. The Supreme Court has similarly upheld congressional requirements for states to adopt safety standards as a condition of federal funding.

(Jacobson & Gostin, 2010).

Just another reason for Perry to get his act together ... although I suppose Texas, as the only state that was once its own country, has a tendency to ignore the whole concept of federal authority.

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