Penalizing Dangerous Driving

Elisabeth Rosenthal reports on the UK’s crackdown on texting while driving:

Inside the imposing British Crown Court here, Phillipa Curtis, 22, and her parents cried as she was remanded for 21 months to a high-security women’s prison, for killing someone much like herself. The victim was Victoria McBryde, an up-and-coming university-trained fashion designer. […] The crash might once have been written off as a tragic accident. Ms. Curtis’s alcohol level was zero. But her phone, which had flown onto the road and was handed to the police by a witness, told a story that — under new British sentencing guidelines — would send its owner to jail.

In the hour before the crash, she had exchanged nearly two dozen messages with at least five friends, most concerning her encounter with a celebrity singer she had served at the restaurant where she worked.

A few thoughts on this. One is that if Curtis had been walking down the street firing bullets into the air at random, and one fell and killed someone, I think she would have been sentenced to a lot more than 21 months. Another is that despite the cliché about car “accidents” the fact of the matter is that fatal motor vehicle collisions typically involve someone breaking the rules. This, after all, is why the rules are there. The traditional social convention in the United States (and apparently the UK as well) that the rules governing the safe operation of fast-moving incredibly heavy pieces of equipment should be routinely ignored or treated as no big deal is really crazy.


As I noted almost 100 people per day die in car wrecks in the United States. Fortunately, thanks in part to increased attention to the need for sensible, well-enforced rules, driving is becoming less fatal:

This trend is great, and we should be trying to continue it. One way to do so is to get serious about the dangers involved in cell phone use, including texting, while driving. Since these technologies are new, we know for certain that people are perfectly capable of getting along in life without using mobile phones while driving their cars. We also know that using them is very dangerous. Under the circumstances, fairly harsh, well-publicized penalties are called for. This is a situation where deterrence really ought to work extremely well.