Texting and Driving: Is it a Sin?

Dr Taylor Marshall writes:

Is texting and driving a car sinful? I am certainly guilty of it. In fact, I did it today on the way home from a Saint George campout (the campout was lots of fun by the way. 80 sons and fathers. Holy Mass. Rosaries. Divine Mercy. Photos coming soon).

While I was on the campout, I learned that one of my former students rolled his truck. He survived. He was texting and driving. I know several people who have wrecked while texting. We know its dangerous, but we do it every day. I do it.

Texting and Driving and AT&Ts New Effort

I was reading Seth Godin’s blog (one of my favorites – remember my Lizard Brain post?) and he commented on AT&Ts new commercial to prevent texting while driving.

Godin, a master of human behavior, believes that AT&Ts commercial won’t work. Here are his four reasons why:

  1. The culture of the car as a haven, a roving office, and a place where you do what you like
  2. The culture of the Marlboro man, no speed limiters in cars, ‘optional’ speed limits on roads
  3. The culture of connection and our fear of being left out
  4. The culture of technology, and our bias to permit it first and ask questions later

Godin suggests that phone makers rig mobile devices to notify the person we’re texting that we’re driving. This creates peer-pressure or self-policing. The other option is to require wireless companies to ban texting when the phone is moving more than 20 miles per hour.

But is Texting and Driving Sinful?

So here’s the big question. Does texting and driving constitute a sin? Does it anger God? Drinking and driving is unethical. Gravely sinful. Drugs and driving? Unethical. Driving fast in a school zone. Unethical. Driving fast in a construction area with men at work? Unethical.

Why are these unethical driving practices? They are wrong because you are endangering the lives of other people.

Now texting does not impair the intellect, as do alcohol and drugs. However, texting and driving does impair the sense of sight – a key necessary element of driving. So is it wrong? Should I confess it?

Defining Imprudent Acts: Speed Racer Tattoo Example

I don’t think that I need to go to confession and say, “Father, I texted about 14 times in the last week while driving.” I don’t think it’s a sin per se, but I do think it qualifies as negative behavior or more strictly as an “imprudent act.”

Students often ask me, “Is XYZ a sin.” They are usually asking about tattoos, piercings, smoking cigars, or whatever college kids want to do. I usually suggest that such activities are “imprudent acts,” and not sins properly speaking.

However, if you have a tattoo on your face or a devil on your back, you need to talk to a priest. Not good.

But if you got excited in the 1990s and have a tattoo of Speed Racer on your upper arm, that’s simply an imprudent act. You have a dated Japanese anime character ink-stained into your human flesh. Sorry bro. That was gravely imprudent. Did you incur the wrath of God? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you lacked prudence. With your Speed Racer anime inkspot, you may never find a wife. Even more, the dudes at the gym are laughing at you behind your back. Nothing says 90s dork than Speed Racer.

[Disclosure: I actually did see a dude with a Speed Racer tattoo at Lollapalooza way back in 1994.]

Conclusion

My opinion, not magisterial pronouncement, is that texting and driving falls under “imprudent acts.”

What I usually try to do is use the iPhone speech to text option. For example:

“Dear Joy, do you want to pick up some Popeyes?”

Unfortunately speech to text turns this into:

“Deer toy do you want me to pick epson drop byes?”

Fortunately, she’s pretty good at deciphering these kind of texts!

 

8 thoughts on “Texting and Driving: Is it a Sin?

  1. Bringing ancient language into modern parlance… is texting while driving an error, mistake or transgression against the greater whole – yes, since someone could potentially get dangerously hurt or cause a fatality – both to the driver and others. The word ‘sin’ carries such heavy dogma, which your term ‘imprudent act’ helps mediate and interpret for various circumstances. But that sign lightens things up (hilarious) while also effectively getting the serious message across – don’t text & drive!

    • As believing confessing Christians “sin” is NOT ancient language. It is an inherent part of our liturgies (e.g., see Nicean Creed). And sin is far more than an error, mistake, or transgression. It involves God and His plan for His universe.

      I believe the consensus of the best studies is that texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. In addition, many jurisdictions (e.g., my state) make it illegal. I often see PSAs on TV discussing the clear and present danger posed to self and others by engaging in this activity.

      If anyone chooses to text and drive knowing how potentially dangerous it is, that person is sinning. They are putting their own selfish desire over the safety needs of others. They are willing to risk murdering someone for their own pride. Seems like “sin” to me. Or as the RCC’s CCC says,

      “The [5th] commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason. … one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.”

      Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism says of the same commandment, their 6th:

      “The sins forbidden….: distracting cares…and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

      We may not want to admit that so many choices we make in our daily lives are sinful, but the reality of sin and our complicity with it is a fact of our horribly fallen world. If only we knew how often we sinned each day. Both in what we do and what we don’t do. That is why we are in dire need of a savior, an informed conscience, and of daily repentence

      I can’t imagine someone truly loving their neighbor as themself while texting and driving.

      • I suspect the author writes as he does to justify his own immoral behavior in this area. He can continue to do it because he has rationalized that it just isn’t quite sinful.
        I don’t know about where he lives, but in my neck of the world distracted and impaired driving his killing and maiming lives, destroying property, and ruining people’s lives. It is a most serious public safety issue. One reason why it is illegal and we see so many PSAs!

        I also sometimes wonder about RCs and these issues. Since annual auricular confession is mandatory, on pain of mortal sin, the natural (sinful) tendency is to downplay sin and look for bright lines between what is and isn’t sin. Take stealing. Is the dividing line between mortal and non-mortal sin somewhere around $100 (not sure if inflation adjustment is needed and what baseline year to use😉 ) This way one doesn’t have to confess it. And by relegating that which is sinful into being non-sinful, it makes it easier to obsess about those sins RCs love to obsess about (e.g., marital sexuality).

      • Wouldn’t be fair to use RC and Reformed material without some Luther. From his Large Catechism, on the 5th Commandment:

        “In this commandment we leave our own house and go out among our neighbors to learn how we should conduct ourselves individually toward our fellow men. … The occasion and need for this commandment is that, as God well knows, the world is evil and this life is full of misery. … In the first place, we should not harm anyone. This means, first by hand or by deed;…; again, we should neither use nor sanction any means or methods whereby anyone may be harmed. …Therefore it is God’s real intention that we should allow no man to suffer harm, but show to everyone all kindness and love. …. he wants to encourage and urge us to true, noble, exalted deeds, such as gentleness, patience, and, in short, love and kindness toward our enemies. … If this could be thoroughly impressed on people’s minds, we would have our hands full of good works to do.” (Tappert Edition, 1959)

      • Dear Mr. Frost, it seems I caused offense where none was intended. The very real danger of texting & driving is already clear to a) practicing Christians who b) indeed realize the gravity of the act (which I concur is similar to drunk driving,or talking on a cell phone without being ‘hands free’ while driving). My comment about the usefulness of the author using the term ‘imprudent acts’ as an adaptation in contrast to ‘sin’ was not aimed at this audience, for the seriousness of texting & driving is already acknowledged, as is the potential harm which can be caused to both self and others. But I assumed the author/Dr. above was speaking to a variety of students – some of which may be Christian and others not. For young people or others not initiated into a particular faith, using language which is more accessible to them can be useful in order to engage dialogue with a broader audience rather than alienating those who are not well versed in scripture. The sign itself is ingenious in that it uses humor to highlight a key issue which can be addressed to both Christians and the public at large, for 1) if one is aware (and not texting) one can honk for love of Jesus 2) If one does not honk but still reads the sign warning of potential death if a person does indeed text and drive (believer or not), the message is clear. A very effective and serious message indeed, yet also put in a succinct, ironically humorous as well as memorable way (which immediately gets to the point – “don’t text & drive”). As for your comment on confession, certainly none of us is perfect, all of us err or sin in various ways, and being mindful of our actions is a conscious practice. And yes truly, the practice of loving others as oneself indeed stretches into all arenas of life, and is sorely needed today. For myself, I also find that the willingness to dialogue with people of a variety of denominations, faiths and worldviews is another way of extending such loving intention, kindness and acknowledging our connectedness and common humanity. Blessings to you sir🙂

  2. It’s quite simple “Thou shalt not…!”
    ‘Finished and Klaar’ as they say in the old Transvaal Republiek.
    When I visited the Church of the Holy Trinity in Makati-Manila there was a traffic sign showing a a cell phone crossed out as one entered the door with those very words written beneath the sign! Apart from being very stupid, texting and driving is the cause of many a road accident and loss of life on our roads.
    It is even more annoying when people don’t switch off or silence their cellphones in church. Has our society become so obsessed with these devices that we have to have them on all the time 24/7? A friend of mine when he heard a cellphone go off in church whilst he was preaching used to say, “Yes Doctor, please hurry to the hospital. The birth pains are 5 minutes apart!” The guilty person felt so “skaam” (ashamed) that they would never dare have their phones on in church ever again!

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