The next time you're on the road, look at the cars around yours and ask yourself: What if these people were all drunk?
If they were talking on a cell phone, a study highlighted by The Sun News last week says they were likely driving as badly as if they had a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, increasing their chance of crashing by four times. If they were typing text messages - a practice that draws drivers' eyes off the road for five-second stretches at a time - their chance of crashing increases to a staggering eight times above normal.
In other words, texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk, but in South Carolina it is perfectly legal. Four Democratic U.S. Senators - including North Carolina's Kay Hagan - seek to change this nationwide, however, having introduced a bill this week to withhold federal highway funds from any state that permits the practice.
Our preference would be for South Carolina to ban texting and talking on the phone while driving on its own volition, but given state lawmakers' usual desire to enshrine the rights of citizens to make bad decisions, we're frankly pessimistic. The federal anti-texting bill would employ the same mechanism that encouraged all states to raise their drinking age to 21 in the 1980s.
Critics of the bill have charged that the law would be difficult to enforce, but that is no reason not to pass it. Many law-abiding drivers would end the foolish practice voluntarily - statistics have shown as much in some of the 14 states that already ban it - and enforcement techniques would surely follow.
Thus, we wish the Senate texting-while-driving ban godspeed on its journey through Washington. The practice is as indefensible as drinking and driving - a clear danger to one's fellow drivers that should be incompatible with the privilege of putting a car on the road.