Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Titanic dangers of 
texting while driving

Wireless operators Jack Phillip (left) went down with the ship, and Harold Bride (right)
survived. Both remained at their posts until the very end, communicating distress messages.
The fifth in our six-part series on the Titanic Centenary, 
honoring the tragic sinking on the morning of April 15, 1912

April 15, 2012 (Meteorologist Shundra Stewart and Forecaster Foot) 
Note: If you just want the weather for today, please visit your nearest local forecast page in Facebook from our team, or our Severe Storm Center.

Today, there probably isn't a person you know who does not have a text-capable phone. A few people we meet from time to time say, "I have text but I don't use it." To some it is just a novelty, to others it can be a life-saver especially considering what happens when high impact weather takes out the power: More and more people resort to their phone for life-saving information. 

In 1912, wireless communication was still in its infancy, with its operations understood only by those in the Marconi Company, founded by  William Marconi in 1899. This startling new technology did however, enable trans-Atlantic vessels to communicate with each other and the mainland using the Morse code system of dots and dashes. To the high society passengers on ocean voyages, it became an addicting novelty. For the two wireless operators charged with managing the rush of messages from Cape Race, it was a cash crop. 

On the night of April 14, as the Titanic sliced through the unusually calm seas off Nova Scotia bound for New York, wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride received several message from other ships warning them and the Captain of extensive ice field and large icebergs throughout the area. However, each wireless cable message to a passenger from the mainland meant a lucrative payment for the operators.

Not unlike the addicting or distracting tendency we all have to "just get one more text out" before danger strikes. In the case of the tragic events that night, much smaller vessels felt the danger was real enough to warn the Titanic. However, in light of testimony given by J. Bruce Ismay following the disaster, was the belief that the ship herself "would be a lifeboat" the ultimate rationale for ignoring iceberg warnings? After all, she was the largest and fastest ship afloat...unsinkable, right?

And we all know how teenagers can be... once you get information in their head that everyone thinks is a good idea (like making money transmitting information with wireless technology) it can be very hard to hard to get it out. Think the gravity of an iceberg warning should trumped interpreting personal , private messages of the socialite community? If you've ever had to get up from  watching TV or playing a game station to silence your ringing phone in another room, you know how annoying it can be to change gears like that!

A few days after the disaster, as the survivors of the Titanic were being saved and heading to New York, the Carpathia received a message from the chief engineer of Marconi Wireless Company of America telling them to not say a word about the disaster. If they kept quiet, a large cash payment would be waiting for them. (Source: Article in

It makes you wonder why the Marconi company wanted to keep their employees quiet? What did they know about the disaster that the company would want them to keep secret? Perhaps the company had already realized the real reasons the ship struck an iceberg came down to these two:
  • The Marconi operators were too busy texting while driving. They ignoring some of the iceberg messages because they were caught up in the cash reward of receiving and delivering messages to passengers;
  • The Captain wanting to set a trans-Alantic speed record on his final voyage, to become the darling of the press and retire as the most famous captain of the time. 
It is documented in the historical record of testimony to the British and America investigations that not all the iceberg messages were received at the bridge. We will never know which of those undelivered messages may have changed history.

We offer this account and analysis as yet another life lesson Titanic continues to teach us. In present day, just remember... the next time someone is texting while driving, they might just hit the iceberg that wrecks the lives of many for a very long time.


Xander Lawson said...

There have been so many warnings and examples of how risky texting while driving can be. With lots of people - teenagers or not - still seemingly not having a care in the world, you'd think they have ESP or a nice philippine prudential plan to cover them.

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