Texting and Driving Dangerous Combination

Jail time for texting. This past week should be a wake-up call for all drivers who use their cell phones while driving- you can actually go to jail. Many states now have laws that prohibit texting while driving. Massachusetts has such a law. A teenager was texting while driving, which resulted in the death of another driver. The teenager was sentenced to jail for one year and will lose his drivers license for fifteen years.

The risk of a car wreck is real: A study by the American Automobile Association discovered that 46% of teens admitted to being distracted behind the wheel because of texting. This distraction is alarming, because 40% of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.[1] The risk of crashing while texting driving increases by 23 times, because reading or sending a text diverts the driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds—the same as driving the length of a football field, blind, at 55 mph.[2] Quoting Wikipedia.

In 2009, Car and Driver performed a test to compare driving while intoxicated and texting: The results, though not surprising, were eye-opening. Intern Brown’s baseline reaction time at 35 mph of 0.45 second worsened to 0.57 while reading a text, improved to 0.52 while writing a text, and returned almost to the baseline while impaired by alcohol, at 0.46. At 70 mph, his baseline reaction was 0.39 second, while the reading (0.50), texting (0.48), and drinking (0.50) numbers were similar. But the averages don’t tell the whole story. Looking at Jordan’s slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet (more than a car length) before hitting the brakes while reading and went 16 feet longer while texting. At 70 mph, a vehicle travels 103 feet every second, and Brown’s worst reaction time while reading at that speed put him about 30 feet (31 while typing) farther down the road versus 15 feet while drunk.

Young people are especially prone to text and drive. In surveys, around 40% admit to driving and texting. Most people don’t know that the law doesn’t just ban texting. It is also unlawful to use your camera, check your email or surf the internet. Using the phone in this fashion has caused or contributed to many car wrecks in North Carolina. In fact, The National Safety Council announced today that it estimates at least 28% of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes each year – involve drivers using cell phones and texting.

If you are under 18 years of age, then you can’t use a phone while driving. How many teens do you see talking away on their phones? There are some exceptions, teenagers can call emergency personnel or their parents. The NC DOT has put out a summary sheet on these laws. If a minor is caught, it is a $25 fine but no points on your license and it will not make your insurance go up. Also, you could possibly be sued if you cause personal injuries to someone else because you weren’t paying attention. Many times, I will get a defendant’s cell phone records to look for usage at or around the time of a wreck. Remember also that no one can text and drive. This will result in a $100 fine and court costs. Here is a copy of the actual statute NGCG 20-137.4A

One interesting point is that unlike seatbelt violations, texting while driving alone can get you pulled over. In fact, the NC Highway Patrol has started to follow drivers on the interstates looking for people on their cell phones and not paying attention.

UPDATE- August 29 2013 New Jersey Court of Appeals has just ruled that the person texting a driver can be sued if it causes a wreck. This is the first case in the nation that I have heard about where someone who wasn’t even in the car got sued. It was a tragic case in which a driver crossed the centerline and hit a motorcycle head on. The injuries were terrible one person’s leg was cut off. Apparently, the defendant who hit them had been texting back and forth 62 times that day and was at the time of the wreck. Of course, this ruling will likely be challenged, but be very careful texting someone that you know is driving.