Turn up the heat on texting transit drivers

Clearly much more needs to be done to convince bone-headed public transit employees that talking on a cell phone -- or worse, texting -- while operating a subway car or commuter train has dire consequences for them.

That it has dire consequences for passengers is already understood.

Forty-eight passengers and one text-happy driver were injured in Boston last night when the latter decided that messaging his girlfriend was more important than applying the brake that would have prevented a collision with another trolley. Both vehicles were carrying baseball fans, including children, toward Fenway Park when the accident occurred. In September, a Los Angeles train wreck that killed 25 people was blamed on the driver's use of his cell phone.

"It's difficult for me to contain my outrage," said Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA, according to the Boston Globe. "We let our employees know there is a zero-tolerance policy for any type of electronic device."

Grabouskas shouldn't be trying to contain his outrage, he should be channeling it toward any and all additional measures necessary to accomplish what this "zero tolerance policy" obviously has not.

The as-yet-unidentified driver, who has been on the job 22 months, needs to be fired as soon as the paperwork can be prepared. His union can demonstrate their concern for public safety and common sense by backing the dismissal without the usual knee-jerk fussing.

Boston Police should file every charge they can reasonably muster.

The 48 injured passengers will sue both the driver and the state, naturally, which means that my fellow Massachusetts taxpayers and I will pay for this numbskull's recklessness.

Although the focus here, it's not just public transportation employees who need to give up texting while driving cold turkey. All 50 states need to pass laws making texting while driving illegal; 10 states -- Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia and Washington, and the District of Columbia, have already done so. Causing an accident while texting should be a felony akin to drunken driving, given that that it's as dangerous if not more so, according to one study.

Particular attention needs to be paid to dissuading teenagers, about half of whom in one survey admitted to texting while driving.

Congress needs to pass a law withholding federal highway funds from any state that refuses to crack down.

The politics should be easy here, as an astounding 89 percent of the public in one poll said they favor such laws.

One last thought: If the driver's girlfriend -- the one he was communicating with when he should have been avoiding a collision -- has any sense she'll send him a text message: "We're through." She can do better.

(Update, 7:45 p.m.: That's a good start: Head of Boston transit says operators will no longer be allowed to even bring their phones on board. "Leave it at home. Leave it in your car. Leave it with a friend. Leave it in a locker. But you are not to get on board that bus, or board a trolley, or a train to operate that train and have a cellphone on your person or in the cab. Period," he said.)  

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