Public roads not the place for a texting derby

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Print this page Paula C. Squires

C’mon Virginia, it’s time to get mad.  People who text and drive are more likely to crash and kill other motorists. So why are states, including the Old Dominion, passing weak laws that are difficult to enforce? How about yanking someone’s license?

Maybe that would send the message that it’s not okay to text and drive, just like it’s not okay to drink and drive.

In 2008, according to federal transportation officials, nearly 6,000 people died and 515,000 were injured in crashes involving mobile devices or cell phones. All told, driver distraction was a factor in 16 percent of all fatal crashes. Not surprisingly, the toll was heaviest among younger, less experienced drivers.  In Virginia, the tally was 28,395 driver-distracted crashes, of which 114 were fatal.

And what was Virginia’s response? On July 1, it joined 18 states and the District of Columbia by passing a law that bans reading or sending text messages while driving.  However, even if a police officer observes the behavior, texting is treated as a secondary offense, which means people can only be cited if they are stopped for another infraction.

The fine for the first offense? $20. Subsequent violations: $50.

That’s not much of an incentive considering the mounting evidence of danger.  In a recent study, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras to track truckers for more than 6 million miles and came to this conclusion: Truckers are 23 times more likely to crash while sending a text message. 

As for cell phones, Tech researchers found that dialing a cell phone or using an electronic device increased the risk of a collision by about 6 times in cars and trucks.

In a recessionary economy, some business people feel they can’t waste precious time while traveling. But it only takes a few seconds to pull over if someone has to respond to an urgent message. That small act of consideration could mean the difference between causing an accident or, worst yet, a death.  And if this unfortunate event occurs, more people are suing companies that allow employees to drive and use cell phones or other mobile devices. 

The federal government is ratcheting up pressure for states to act. Last week, President Obama banned federal employees from texting while driving government cars.  And both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are discussing legislation that would cause states to lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding if they don’t ban texting or e-mailing while driving. 

Why in America do we have to legislate what should be the common will: the safety of our public roads.



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