Nowadays, it is hard to find one person without a smartphone. Even teens and tweens have them. We talk and text, Facebook and Tweet. And, although we know we should not, some of us are guilty of driving and texting. But do we truly recognize the consequences? Less than a month ago, Jason Seelye was involved in a texting and driving fatality right here in Boston. On July 22, 2013, he was driving from a party where he had been drinking. He lost control and wrecked his vehicle. Seelye admitted to reading a text message at the time of the crash. His passenger, Daniel Pinnick, was severely injured and later died. This type of senseless death has become all too commonplace.
Texting and driving is a widespread problem
Far too many people believe that they can text and drive safely. However, the statistics tell the real story. According to the National Safety Council, there are approximately 1.6 million accidents each year caused by texting. More disturbing is the fact that approximately 2,600 deaths resulted from the use of cell phones while driving. Studies show that, when texting, you are 6 times more likely to have an accident, making texting while driving worse than driving drunk. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that you are 23 times more likely to have an accident while texting. Why? Because texting is like driving after drinking four beers – it slows your reaction time by 18%.
What are state legislatures doing about the growing problems created by cell phones?
Considering these statistics, it was clear that new laws addressing this growing trend were necessary. Washington was the first state to take action and, in 2007, passed the first texting while driving ban. Now, only 9 states do not have a complete ban on texting and driving. Fifteen states have gone one step further and completely banned the use of hand-held devices while driving. Currently, only Montana and South Carolina do not have any cell phone or texting laws on the books.
Massachusetts ban on texting and cell phone use while driving
Massachusetts does not have a general ban on hand-held devices, but has banned texting while driving for all drivers. School bus drivers and drivers under the age of 18 years are banned from cell phone use while driving. Massachusetts’ law, known as The Safe Driving Law, became effective on September 30, 2010. According to Massachusetts officials, they “foresee rigorous enforcement of this law.” Interestingly enough, in 2012 Montana (which has no bans) was reported as generally having the highest motor vehicle fatality rate, while Massachusetts was reported as having the lowest.
Can texting bans truly be enforced?
While the need for bans can hardly be debated, are the bans working? Some believe they cannot really be enforced. Logically, texting bans beg the question: how can a police officer tell if the driver is texting? Police officers will no doubt have a difficult time proving this violation, since the person they stop could have just dialing a phone number, which at this time is not illegal. One set of researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee believe the answer is to remain consistent and enforce the laws as you would drunk driving laws. In their opinion, enforcement of the bans “must be universal and considered a primary violation.” Certainly the mere existence of the bans can deter some from the dangerous behavior, and perhaps that is all we can hope for.