The proliferation of cellphone use while driving which caused the unspeakable, recent tragedy on  Highway 12 could happen to anyone and at anytime. Someone needs to take action.

What we need is for a politician to step up and identify cellphone use while driving as punishable as a DUI. A good place to begin would be a possible bill increasing punitive results for misuse of a cellphone while driving.

Dangerous cellphone use while driving is a problem for all segments of our society. Drivers of all ages and economic levels are guilty of this error. Combining driving with cellphone use can be like playing Russian roulette. That is, one can try this simultaneous act once and nothing happens. Do it again and still nothing, but ultimately luck runs out and the result can be the tragedy that recently occurred on Highway 12.

Moreover, the psychological damage that follows such an event becomes a lifelong experience for all involved.

The notion that it can’t happen to me illustrates the highest degree of stupidity. One only needs to look at brain research to put to rest the notion of one’s ability to multi-task while driving.

The brain cannot physiologically function effectively when one combines driving with cellphone use. Regardless of how effective one believes his level of sensory and gross motor abilities appear to be, it is dangerous to drive and use a cellphone simultaneously.

For example, there is something called working memory which contains a central control mechanism and two subordinate components involved in rehearsal, in this case driving and cellphone use. The central control mechanism manages the interactions between driving and cellphone use and long-term memory or denial. Another part of the equation is called the visual spatial sketchpad which allows for encoding information into working memory, a process which forms the dangerous combination of visual and spatial codes while driving and texting.

Unfortunately, when working memory is processing new information (cellphone use), the visual spatial component can become so over activated that it will develop difficulty filtering out non-related images. The driver can become so distracted by irrelevant sights along the road, such as other cars, pedestrians, that he will disregard the most immediate and significant traffic cues.

The problem is not simply a can -or-cannot-do issue; rather, it is an issue with the actual physiology of the brain. Cellphone use negatively affects the ability to drive. Again, simultaneous driving and cellphone use needs to be elevated to a level associated with extreme hazard to safety of self and others as correlated with DUIs.

Bottom line – the punishment simply does not fit the crime.

We need to see our civilized, intelligent behavior as a major requirement for having a license to drive.

Let’s suggest to our local representatives that a bill be put on the ballot to heighten the punitive results of simultaneous driving and cellphone use.

To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast.