Criminal Law

Texting and Driving

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California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed an amendment to the state's texting-while-driving law. The bill would have increased the penalties for texting while driving and similar offenses. The Governor felt the penalties for unlawful cell phone use while driving were already stiff enough to punish and deter this type of distracted driving.

The bill also proposed a first-of-its-kind law, banning texting while bicycling. This ban had support from the cyclist's lobby. It shows the extent to which lawmakers are concerned about the distraction caused by communications devices. Motorists, bicyclists and even pedestrians can all create a risk of harm - to themselves and others - from cell phone use on the roads. Be smart, use them wisely.

Original Article

Text messaging, sending a short text messages between cell phones or other handheld devices, is a phenomenon worldwide. Texting has grown from nearly 10 billion messages per month in December 2005 to more than 110 billion in December 2008.[1]

While popular and convenient, messaging has its drawbacks: It has resulted in thousands of accidents and deaths on the road. Studies have estimated that distracted driving killed 6,000 last year and injured 515,000.[2]

Why is Texting Dangerous?

Texting while driving results taking your eyes off the road, which can result in an accident. A July 2008 study showed that when drivers of heavy trucks texted they have 23 times the risk for a collision. A separate report by Car and Driver found that texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving (DUI/DWI).[3]

Is Texting and Driving Legal?

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal. Also, seven states and D.C. have banned driving while talking on the phone. However, texting and talking while driving is not illegal across the United States and depends on the state line. Safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and using handheld mobile devices while behind the wheel.

The Executive Order

President Obama signed an executive order banning federal employees from texting while driving a government-owned vehicle or using government-issued cell phones. In addition, the government plans to ban text messaging by bus drivers and truckers traveling across state lines and is considering completely banning them from using cell phones while driving.

The executive order was signed following a 2-day conference in Washington on distracted driving that included 300 academics, law enforcement officials, legislators, telecommunications and automobile industry representatives. In addition, families of people killed by drivers who were talking on cell phones or text messaging joined the conference.

Calling the conference “the most important meeting in the history of the Department of Transportation,” Transportation Secretary Ray. LaHood explained that restricting text messaging by federal employees behind the wheel “sends a very clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable.”[4]

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department said the order takes effect immediately and involved 4.5 million federal employees, including military personnel.

What about the States?

While impacting most federal employees, the President’s order can’t force states to make texting and driving illegal. Under the US Constitution, states are in charge of their own “police powers” meaning that states make laws for the safety of their residents. However, while the federal government can’t force states to enact certain laws, the government can influence states in other ways. For example, the federal government can make funds available only if the states act a certain way.

Over the summer, New York’s senator Charles Schumer introduced a bill requiring states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. Therefore, it’s likely that most states will follow and make texting while driving illegal.

More Questions

After President Obama signed the order, many questions facing the trucking industry arose. Truckers need computers in their trucks to do their jobs and communicate with dispatchers.

On one side, studies show that using these devices while driving increases the risk of an accident; however, the trucking industry is concerned that bans could interfere with how well their jobs are done if phones and other texting devices can’t be used. Furthermore, the general use of cell phones seems to be the main concern, not just texting.

One thing is clear: It’s hazardous and takes away from your attention on the road even if you think you can handle it.

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