Virtual Voices

Death by mobile phone

Issues

The local news reported 11 dead in a crash on I-65, about 70 miles south of Louisville, Ky.

Early news reports indicated that an 18-wheeler smashed into a 15-passenger van.

Later news revealed that 10 people from the same family perished in the van, leaving behind two children. Those who died were known as a deeply committed Christian family, Mennonites from a small community near Tennessee. They were on their way to Iowa for a wedding. The driver of the truck also died.

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Was this an alcohol-related accident? It seemed unlikely given the time of day and the type of vehicles involved.

Perhaps this was a case of driver-fatigue. Although government standards regulate the rest-work schedule for truck drivers, the economic recession may have caused him to push on down the road past the point of exhaustion. Sleepy drivers do not make for safe drivers.

But neither alcohol nor driver fatigue caused this tragedy. According to the official accident report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the driver of the truck "made four mobile phone calls in the minutes leading up to the crash, making the last call at 5:14 a.m., coinciding with the time that the truck departed the highway."

The driver made a call on his mobile phone. Then, according to the report, he lost control of the truck as it "crossed a 60-foot-wide median, struck and overrode a cable barrier system, entered the northbound travel lanes, and struck a 15-passenger van, driven by a 41-year-old male and occupied by 11 passengers (eight adults, two small children, and an infant). The truck driver and 10 of the 12 occupants of the van were killed."

Officials must write such reports in non-emotive language, but that does not keep the reader from feeling emotion. Shock. Sadness. Outrage.

Death by mobile phone.

My wife has friends who knew friends who knew this family. These few degrees of separation did not take away the powerful sense of sadness at hearing of this massive loss to one community, one church, and one family.

It is not hard to imagine that it could have been a vanload of my own friends who perished that day. Or it could have been my own family.

I live close to my work and my commute is brief. Even so, I never go the short distance without seeing someone using a mobile device while they are driving. To be more specific, every day I see someone using these devices while the vehicle they are driving is in motion. From teens to seniors, nobody seems to have the time simply to drive their cars anymore.

State governments are getting involved by imposing bans on mobile phones for all drivers, even as the NTSB is urging a cell phone ban for all commercial drivers.

Does the Bible provide any direction on this issue?

The Mosaic Law instructed the Israelites about one's responsibility to prevent accidental death to others when the likelihood of the accident is a known factor:

"When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:28-29).

I would argue that the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39) puts the burden on the Christian to love one's neighbor by not putting them in bodily danger through recklessness.

The common sense wisdom of Proverbs 27:12 teaches, "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." In contrast, distracted drivers play Russian roulette with their lives and the lives of others they may harm.

I'll leave government to write and enforce legislation, and I hope they do so without delay. But personal responsibility and love for neighbor must also come into play in the discussion.

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