The Penalty for Texting While Driving Should Be Just as Severe as DUI or Reckless Driving

Updated on December 21, 2019
Lonnie Bell profile image

As a survivor of a deadly car crash caused by a distracted driver, this topic is personal to me and I want to help raise awareness.

Look Up! Road Ahead

You see it everyday on the road, on the highway and often in your rearview mirror. Drivers behind the wheel with their eyeballs fixated on that mobile screen. One hand clutches the wheel for dear life while the other holds the device steady. Fingers pressing and scrolling away as the driver glances up every few seconds to either slow down or keep the vehicle straight. It is the most annoying thing to witness.

There are three main distractions while driving:

1) Visual - Gazing at something other than the road and vehicles before you

2) Manual - Fiddling around, grabbing and looking for things instead of focusing on the road and vehicles before you

3) Cognitive - Worry, sadness, anger or any other emotion that affect your mental state and ability to focus on the road and vehicles before you

Not to mention, it becomes a distraction of your own when you see someone with their face buried in the phone while driving, especially if they're "tailgating" behind you.

"Some drivers assume that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds is no big deal. They're wrong. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded"


The Numbers Don't Lie

According to The National Safety Council, there are roughly 1.6 million crashes per year in the U.S, with 1 out of 4 caused by texting and driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association and National Safety Council both report there were 1.5 million car crashes in 2017 and a total of 4,637 people killed in 2018 due to cell phone use.

In the two year period this data is based on, the collateral damage was equally astonishing. Crashes were responsible for $129 billion of the overall societal damage caused by accidents from texting and driving.

Here's an interesting assessment from the NHTSA:

-Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free device, delays a driver’s reaction time by as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08%.

It would seem that if texting while driving is in stiff competition with drunk driving (in some cases, arguably, more dangerous), it should be subject to the same levels of misdemeanor / punishment.

Non-Injury DUI Offenses

- Class B misdemeanor - First Offense

- Class A misdemeanor -Second / Third Offense

- Felony - Fourth / Subsequent Offenses

DUI with Injury Offense

- Class B Felony

As it stands, there is currently a text messaging ban in virtually all 50 states with most states considering it a "primary" offense - meaning a police officer can pull you over based on observation of that offense. It would be the same as getting pulled over and ticketed for speeding.

Other states consider it a "secondary" offense - meaning you won't be pulled over for it alone, but if pulled over for another reason, you could get a separate ticket. The same as pulled over for speeding, then getting another ticket for not wearing a seatbelt.


Will Bluetooth Technology Solve The Problem?

Bluetooth was in its infancy in the early 90's and exploded onto the market in 1999 as the future of wireless communication. Fast-forward to 2016, it became standard issue in 90% of automobiles being manufactured. So chances are, every other vehicle you see on the road today has this technology built in. But let's be honest, not everyone is driving a three year old car, so anything before 2016 may or may not have bluetooth. It's a toss-up.

If you so happen to have a vehicle that doesn't have this technology built in, you can bet your smartphone certainly does. All you need is a bluetooth earpiece to pair with and you're hands-free, (ideally text-free).

Back in 2009 there was a technology company based out of Utah, Ascend LC, that was working on a bluetooth "ignition key" product that would disable the ability to text by switching the phone to drive-only mode while the car was on. The whole purpose was to combat the teen-texting / driving epidemic. Of course, this would've been a major bluetooth modification to vehicles for this to work. Not exactly sure if car manufacturers loved the idea (or the cost of it), but never heard much about it recently and certainly haven't seen any vehicles boasting the new feature.

In my opinion, bluetooth stands king when it comes to safe driving. People just have to use it when they get behind the wheel. Talk until your heart is content, but leave your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. There's just simply no need to text.

Bluetooth headsets transmit calls from your phone to the headset in your ear -- this allows you to keep your phone in your pocket and allows drivers to cruise around hands-free.

Here's Looking At You Kid

There are countless statistics relating to the number of accidents (some fatal) from texting while driving everywhere you look on the internet. Surprisingly, most of the data collected seem to be based off teenage driving. Young, inexperienced drivers behind the wheel with a mobile device sounds like the perfect recipe for disaster on the road.

Truthfully, they are not the only culprits or victims in this crisis. People of all ages are guilty at some point in their driving career. The difference between, let's say... reading or responding to a text while at the stoplight and, let's say... carrying on a full blown "textasation" while your foot mashes the pedal is just that...the big difference, the only difference. It's what separates one car from another (if you know what I mean)

Insurance Zebra DBA conducted a 2019 survey of young adults on this subject.

Here were the results:

  • 38% of respondents (aged 18-24) rated their knowledge of their state’s own laws about texting & driving as “very familiar.”
  • 55% of these same respondents thought it was illegal to text while driving in all 50 states.

Young drivers reported feeling well-informed regarding their state’s texting and driving laws. However, the group’s responses showed most young drivers incorrectly assumed texting and driving had been outlawed across the United States.

This basically says there is a widspread knowledge that it's illegal, yet people still do it anyway, whether intentional or unintentional.

Ask yourself this: Is texting and driving any different than driving around with an open beer can or liquor bottle in your hand? And when you raise to take a drink, is raising the phone to text any different?

Personally, I would say yes, as they're both dangerous distractions that deserve to be seen as equal violations.


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