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Texting while driving: More states are making it illegal

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Driving While Texting Bans
Accidents can occur for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons are preventable. Others are not. Distracted driving would fall into the preventable category. That is why more and more states are making it illegal to send text messages while driving. In fact, 30 states have banned text messaging for all drivers. In addition, eight states prohibit all hand-held cell phone use while driving. The federal government has also banned texting while driving by federal employees on duty and by all commercial truck and bus drivers. Kansas is the most recent state to take action and with good reason. According to the Kansas Transportation Department, texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. So what are consequences for violators of the Kansas ban?

Kansas law
Following a six-month warning period, local and state law enforcement officers will begin handing out tickets to anyone found texting while driving. The fine will be a minimum of 60 dollars, plus court costs. The law does not stop there however, as instant messaging and emailing while driving, are also banned. In addition, for all drivers with a learner’s permit or intermediate license (which happens to be the age-group with the highest proportion of distraction related crashes nationally), the new Kansas law also bans all cell phone use. That ban is effective with respect to both hand-held or hands-free cell phones. Drivers with such permits who are convicted of the new violation may face delays in receiving a full license. They also face the prospect of incurring fines and courts costs.

Under the law, officers can issue texting tickets simply by viewing a violation. The law still applies even if a driver is stopped at a red light or stop sign. The law however, does include exceptions for reading emergency, traffic and weather-related alerts, and for reporting a crime.

Implementation Difficulties
There is some concern over the difficulty in determining whether a driver is making a call or texting. Some think the two are easily distinguishable, while others believe the difference is not so easy to discern. But there are enforcement safeguards in place.

Whether a driver is texting or making a call, Wichita police officers can pull over the driver for careless driving if they think the driver was distracted, said Lt. Doug Nolte, spokesman for the Wichita Police Department. If texting was the cause, they will give a citation, he said.

Similar Law in Oklahoma
As mentioned earlier, Kansas isn’t the only state implementing bans. Oklahoma passed a law last year prohibiting drivers 18 and under who have a learner’s permit or intermediate driver’s license from using a cell phone to talk or text while driving, except in case of emergency. The bill was supposed to be more stringent, banning texting for all motorists. However, it ran into opposition and the less stringent version was passed. In addition, the governor, joining a statewide effort, signed an executive order prohibiting state employees from texting while driving on state business in state-owned or personal vehicles.

Conclusion
The bad news is that texting while driving is a serious problem. The proportion of drivers distracted at the time of fatal crashes increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008, when nearly 6,000 people died and more than a half million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. And those statistics don’t even tell the whole story. The problem may be even larger since driver distractions may be vastly underreported to law enforcement. There is good news though. As mentioned above, more and more states are implementing bans on texting while driving. Accidents caused by texting are entirely avoidable. Drivers need to understand that certain distractions are preventable. With the help of laws prohibiting such behavior, the roads should become substantially safer.


3 Comments

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  1. Erik Wood says:
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    I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily – many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

    I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER LLC
    OTTER app

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    GREAT article David! Very well written and as the parent of a new teenage driver, as well as a safe teen driving advocate, the information you’ve provided here is very helpful and engaging. Shelley

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    David, Thanks for this article. The topic is very near and dear to me. I am involved in a number of efforts on the web to help prevent distracted driving. Please see these and help spread the word about them.
    (1) Casey Feldman Network – http://www.caseyfeldmannetwork.org/
    (2) Prevent Distracted Driving – Make a pledge to prevent this from happening. http://prevent-distracted-driving.org/pledge-form/
    and
    (3) Nathional Organization for Youth Safety – http://semredcrossyouth.org/2010/08/02/national-organizations-for-youth-safety-noys-accepting-applications-for-distracted-driving-prevention-leadership-team/