Yisrael Katz

Would you drive after 4 shots of booze?

A new transportation ministry campaign targets the most dangerous phenomenon in recent years, texting while driving

I too am connected to my smartphone. No matter where I am, I’m always available. I text, email, take pictures, read the news. And it happens everywhere: in the doctor’s office, at an important meeting, in the Knesset or at a family dinner. Except for one place.

Who has not done this? A short text, a few words, reading, responding — and all this while we continue driving. As a driving instructor teaches in the satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet: a word, the road, a word, the road. But after a few letters we all notice that we have deviated from the route without anyone noticing. We do it out of habit, maybe even addiction.

It’s no coincidence that Oprah Winfrey, the most influential and popular TV presenter in the U.S., is spearheading a public service campaign to declare the vehicle as a “no phone zone.” In the campaign, Oprah introduced an amazing statistic: Texting while driving is equivalent to driving after drinking four shots of alcohol.

I was inspired to launch a similar campaign in Israel by the case of a young man from Texas who drove his truck off a cliff. The police found that the accident occurred because he was busy sending a text message to his friend while driving. The message remained on the mobile device screen that the police found in the car: “I need to quit texting, because I could die in a car accident.”

Our heart stops when we imagine ourselves in the place of the young man sitting behind the wheel that terrible day. But the sad truth is that even such tragic cases probably won’t cause us to put the phone down while driving. After all, we’ve heard quite a bit about the dangers of texting while driving in the past, and we can all recite why it’s not responsible. But most of us will continue to act just as we are used to: texting and driving, playing Candy Crush and honking at the car ahead, reviewing the feed in Instagram just as we take a turn. We know it’s dangerous, but continue to press on the gas and press “I’m not the driver” on Waze.

When I began to study the subject, I asked my employees if they text me while driving. Everyone replied unequivocally yes. I told them that I’m asking them to not answer me, and to keep their hands on the wheel.

When I get behind the wheel, my cellphone automatically switches to silent mode. There is no message that cannot wait. As the Minister of Transportation I am responsible for your life from the moment you enter the car. I urge you — the next time you get in the car find your willpower, put the phone aside and focus on the road. Messages will wait for you until you reach your destination. So let us consider a new way. In our family there’s a rule. If you’re driving, you’re not texting.

About the Author
Yisrael Katz is Israel's Minister of Transportation and a Member of Knesset for the Likud party