The Orthodox community has been in a panic about the recent news that observant teenagers are texting on Shabbos. However, we must address a much greater life-and-death concern.
The National Transportation Safety Board just issued a sweeping recommendation to ban the use of mobile phones while driving. Even though distracted drivers cause thousands of accidents each year – about 3,000 documented highway fatalities, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of injuries – a writer in the Washington Post is still proclaiming that you will have to tear her cell phone from “her cold, driving hands.” How is it that one in five drivers still texts while driving? Texting while driving is currently illegal in 35 states – we have 15 to go! Thousands of lives are at stake.
Actually, according to Jewish law, if a driver were to kill another while texting, it would be, at the least, unintentional murder, and, at worst, an “act approaching the intentional” (Hilchot Rotzeiach 6:4). The moral battlefield exists in the unintentional realm. We are responsible to set up our lives so that caution deters us from making mistakes that cause great harm to others.
My esteemed mentor and colleague Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky argues: “To cause the death of another through an act of gross negligence – albeit unintentionally and without any premeditation – is categorized as a ‘great sin,’ one which legally approaches intentional murder.” He continues, “It is self-evident that our system demands that we not drive while distracted by -our cell phone, lest we, G-d forbid, inadvertently injure or kill someone.”
The Torah explains: “If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if one falls from it” (Deuteronomy 22:8). Commentators explain that we are obligated to be extremely proactive to ensure that all of our property is only used in ways that avoid any possible harm to another.
A recent New York Times article suggested that “drivers using a phone are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers,” and that certain cell phone use makes one as unfit to drive as one with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent, a state of intoxication.
Until recently, I was texting while I was driving. It can be really hard to stop but we must! We must be terrified by the consequences.
Share this video on “The Dangers of Texting While Driving” with others. And this horrific video. Commit today to never again text while you are driving. Commit not to read or learn Torah on your iPhone while you are driving! Do it to save a life. Do it to save your own life. Do it because it is Jewish law!
Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.