With the overwhelming presence of smart technology, it is no surprise that most states have passed texting while driving bans. Lawmakers and law enforcement have long been concerned about distracted driving, particularly among younger drivers. However, as more and more drivers have smartphones and tablets in the car with them, distracted driving due to phone use has increased. With drivers texting, using social media, and even surfing the Internet while operating their vehicles, lawmakers have good cause to be concerned. Several states have already enacted bans on handheld cell phone use, while 42 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving.
Teenage drivers are especially prone to using their phones while driving, and the risk of such activity has recently been compared to the risk of driving drunk. Distracted driving among teenage drivers has always been an issue, but now as nearly every teen driver has a cell phone, texting while driving has become a major concern. This is why 37 states and D.C. have passed laws banning all cell phone use among novice drivers, in addition to texting while driving bans.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that teens are now more likely to text while driving than to drink and drive. According to this study, an estimated 2,700 teenagers and young adults die every year due to driving under the influence of alcohol. An additional 282,000 young people are injured each due to alcohol-impaired driving. However, over the last 20 years, alcohol use among teen drivers has decreased dramatically. Unfortunately, as drunk driving among teenaged drivers drops, texting while driving increases.
Even as studies and experts prove the dangers of texting while driving, the laws have yet to catch up. Although nearly every state has some form of a texting while driving ban, violating that law is a generally a mere traffic offense. The fines vary from state to state, but these bans do not yet carry the same significant penalties as DUIs or DWIs.
Every state has laws prohibiting drunk driving, and violations carry steep penalties including fines, probation, and jail time. Additionally, Federal law requires each state to impose repeat offender laws that punish those who continue to drink and drive after a first offense. The more intoxicated driving convictions a driver has, the harsher the penalties become.
For example, in New York any driver who drives while intoxicated within 10 years of a prior conviction for an alcohol-related offense (other than driving while ability impaired) will be charged with a felony DWI. A felony DWI in New York carries a penalty of prison time, fines up to $10,000, the requirement to install and maintain an interlock device, and a driver’s license revocation.
The severe penalties for drunk driving (first offenses and repeat convictions) are in stark contrast to those for texting while driving, despite the two offenses having similar dangers. Some lawmakers are calling for harsher penalties for drivers who text, given experts’ comparison between the dangers of drunk driving and texting while driving. As phone use bans develop, texting drivers may have to face increased penalties similar to those imposed for driving while intoxicated.
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