Best of Beth Bales: I See You Texting at the Light!

If you're at a stoplight and texting, is your car in park or neutral? It should be ...

  • Editor's note: Consider this a bonus "Best of Beth." The following column originally ran July 7, 2011. But it was relevant then and maybe even more relevant now, considering the recent National Transportation Safety Board's call to while driving.


Hey, you stopped at the texting away, head bobbing to be sure the light hasn’t turned green yet. Did you know texting while operating a motor vehicle is illegal—even if you’re stopped in traffic (unless you’re in park or neutral)?

Yeah, me neither. 

I’ve heard all the admonitions about texting and driving and have long wondered how anyone could possibly do both tasks at the same time. In my case, even apart from the sheer attention-diverting chore of texting, I wouldn’t be able to see my phone unless I put my reading glasses on! So I simply never text and drive. I followed that practice long before 2010, when Illinois made it officially illegal. 

However, at traffic lights? If I know a text has come in I’ll look at it. If it’s a long light (First Avenue and Route 64 in St. Charles comes to mind), I may return a text. It does help that, unlike my children, I don’t get that many texts in a given day.

But I’m going to have to change my ways. I’ve discovered it is illegal to text while stopped in traffic, unless your car is in neutral or park.

I have a lot of company in this illegal practice, and I’m guessing many people don’t know it’s illegal. Last week, on a pleasant summer evening, I put myself in neutral at the , at Third and State in downtown Geneva. It’s an intersection where I’ve seen many, many people check their phones while stopped at the light.

Traffic wasn’t nearly as heavy as I would have thought. But during my time out enjoying the evening, I saw 12 drivers talking on their cell phones, which is not against the law. I saw many passengers busily tapping at screens. I saw people talking, and people staring straight ahead.

And I saw seven drivers who, as I did until extremely recently, reading or composing texts while stopped at the light. I doubt many, if any, had put their vehicles in neutral or park, either.

Of those seven, one didn’t even bother looking up to see if the light had changed, while another continued to peck away after she got the green light. And the piece de resistance: the relatively young woman who was clearly looking down while sailing merrily through downtown traffic. 

Consider yourselves warned: if you’re at the light, sadly, it’s illegal to use “an electronic communication device to compose, send or read an electronic message,” unless of course you’re reporting an emergency situation, you’re using a hands-free or voice-activated mode or you’re in neutral or park.

One additional observation: Of all those cars I saw passing by, at least five of them contained people eating ice cream, happily, by the looks of them. Now there’s a good way to pass a summer evening, while in the car!

Erik Wood July 08, 2011 at 02:36 AM
I just read that Text and Drive specifically was the cause of 16,141 highway deaths from 2001 to 2007 and over 200,000 non fatal accidents last year. For every 6 seconds a driver spends texting, 4.6 of those seconds are with their eyes off the road, which makes texting the most dangerous cell phone activity anyone can engage in while operating a 5,000 pound piece of steel and glass. Nothing compared to eating an ice cream! If technology is going to help, it should get all driver’s eyes back on the road where they belong. I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting mom. Instead of expensive software with recurring fees that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens), I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. Its an easy way for any user (NOT just teens) to manage that text and drive temptation. Erik Wood, owner OTTER LLC OTTER app


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