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We Know Better, But We Text While Driving Anyway03:57

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A woman sends a text message while driving in Concord,  N.H., in December 2009. (AP)
A woman sends a text message while driving in Concord, N.H., in December 2009. (AP)

Sending text messages while driving could soon be illegal in Massachusetts. The House approved a bill Thursday that bans texting behind the wheel; that bill now heads to the Senate. But even though studies show that it's more dangerous than drunk driving, many people still do it. And why they do it involves a complicated mix of compulsion, rationalization, denial and guilt.

It seems so obvious: You shouldn't be typing a text message if you're operating a moving vehicle. No matter how adept a texter you are, common sense says it's just not smart.

"I really shouldn't at all," admitted Todd Hudson, 34. "But I do."

Hudson says he has informal guidelines for when he will and won't text while driving: He tries not to do it if he's in heavy traffic or taking turns, and if he does do it he likes to pull over to the side of the road first. "That's my ideal," Hudson said. "But I never quite match that ideal. I mean, you get a text from somebody and you want to respond to it."

Nick Gross, 46, understands that strong need to be in touch electronically. He said he used to text while driving once in a while, but not any more. "I couldn't do the two things at the same time without sacrificing one of them," he admitted.

“There are times if you’re, like, going down the highway, for example, where you can fairly easily text and maintain good driving without endangering yourself or others.”

--Tyler Ostergaard, 25

But Gross remembers the mental battle of being in his car and wanting to tap away on that little keypad.

"My internal dialog is to have to tell myself, I'm going to be there in five minutes. I'm going to see this person in five minutes anyway. There's no point in texting that," he explained. "But, you know, on the flip side, it's like, well, I need to tell them I'm going to be there in five minutes so that they know and they can be waiting for me."

And remember, Nick is pushing 50. So texting while driving isn't something that only teenagers and 20-somethings do. In fact, some studies show that the biggest growth in texting is among people over 35. And for older people in high-pressure jobs who need to be reachable constantly, texting behind the wheel can be inevitable.

Although it turns out that not everyone thinks texting while driving is always unsafe.

"There are certainly times when driving when I think you can do it and times when you can't," said Tyler Ostergaard, 25. "So if you're going through a rotary, yeah, then it's a bad idea. But I think that you can make a judgment call," he said. "There are times if you're, like, going down the highway, for example, where you can fairly easily text and maintain good driving without endangering yourself or others."

You heard that correctly. He says a highway is a safe place to send a text — a highway, where most drivers are going 55 miles an hour, at least.

And he's not the only person who feels that way. Other drivers interviewed for this story said highways are straight and wide, so you can see what's coming and stop texting if things seem risky.

Some people say they won't text in intersections or during bad weather, but they will do it at stop signs and red lights. Others say they text when they're on suburban streets, but not when they're in the city because of all the bicyclists and pedestrians.

A few people interviewed did say they never text while driving. Virginia Smith is one of them. She's 56 and has three kids who don't drive yet, and she said there should be zero tolerance for texting behind the wheel.

"It should be banned throughout the entire country," Smith said, "and I think if you do it and you kill someone, you should go to jail for manslaughter."

That leads to another rationalization for why people text while driving.

Ben Voskeritchian, 26, said he believes he can text and pay attention to the road simultaneously. "Everyone thinks they can be safe," he said, "and I always tell all of my friends, 'Stop! Get off your phone!' If I'm driving next to them or if I'm in the passenger seat or whatever. But that's kind of hypocritical. Not kind of. It is hypocritical."

But to borrow a phrase from a local performer, why have a single standard when you can have a double one?

This program aired on February 8, 2010.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.


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