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Last Friday, while driving to Harrisburg to pick up a friend from the Amtrak station, I became frustrated with the driver in front of me.  The driver was in the passing lane, not passing.  On top of that the driver failed to drive a consistent speed, ranging 10 mph above and below the speed limit.  It’s no small wonder her driving was terrible; from her driver’s side mirror I could see her constantly removing her eyes from the road to start into her lap.  I’d bet my car that she was on her phone.

We all know using a cell phone while driving is dangerous, but how dangerous is it?  According to the National Safety Council 23% of all crashes, or at least 1.3 million crashes per year, involve cell phone use.  Surprisingly, only 100,000 of these are believed to be caused by texting, with the other 1.2 million are attributed to conversations.  So what are we doing to combat this safety breech?

Of all the states and territories of the United States only 10 states, D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands completely prohibit the use of handheld devices while driving.  Most of these are included under primary enforcement, meaning an officer may cite a driver without any other traffic offense having occurred.  Maryland and West Virgina are exceptions to this primary enforcement classification, although WV will be correcting this next summer.

The above law strictly focuses on the use of handheld devices for any purpose while driving , thus making it very comprehensive in terms of limiting physical distractions.  Although only a small few go to this level of regulation other states have laws specifically targeted at texting:

  • 39 states, D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban all text messaging, and only 4 of these states are not classified under primary enforcement.  These include states with full handheld device laws.
  • An additional 5 states restrict text messaging by novice drivers
  • 3 states specifically prohibit school bus drivers from texting

Many states include some provision for texting while driving under a general banner of “distracted driving.”  However, these laws are not primary enforcement meaning the driver must commit some other moving violation in order to be cited for texting.  In some instances this does not apply to all violations, such as in Utah where speeding does not count as a moving violation where texting can be included in the citation.

Despite the many attempts to curtail cell phone related accidents through legislation and enforcement it is painfully obvious that these strategies are not working.  They’re harsh, but perhaps a new campaign of MADD style advertising is exactly what we need to combat this trend.  It’s intense, that is for sure.  But what will it take to get people to realize just how much they risk for those precious moments spent texting and driving…

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