Now that more than 80 percent of Americans are using cellphones or mobile devices capable of texting, that means we are exponentially more at risk.
Vermont already has a law on the books dating back to June 2010 that prohibits all drivers from text messaging while operating a moving vehicle.
Earlier this fall, a Colchester teen who struck a woman and killed the woman’s dog reached a deal, pleading guilty to gross negligent operation with serious bodily injury as well as a lesser charge. The 19-year-old’s victim is still recovering from a brain injury as a result of the texting while driving incident in August 2011. The girl called 911 only 45 seconds after she had sent a text.
The case was the first of its kind in Vermont.
But what effect is the law having on us as drivers?
Look around you the next time you are out in public; the law is being broken time and again. Countless drivers continue the dangerous practice.
In some ways, texting is more dangerous than drinking and driving. These devices are part of our culture now, whereas there are some limitations as to the availability of alcohol. In addition, through their everyday use, users convince themselves they are better at it than they think.
They are wrong.
According to Texting and Driving Safely, an online group that tracks accidents and incidents across the United States related to texting, at least 23 percent of vehicle collisions nationwide, or 1.3 million crashes, involved a cellphone or mobile device. The group also found that you are 23 times more likely to have an accident while texting, compared to 2.8 times when dialing, 1.3 times when talking or listening on a device, and 1.4 times when reaching for your phone.
In addition, in 2011, 13 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds admitted to using their mobile device at the time a crash occurred.
It is understandable that 52 percent of mobile phone users would admit to driving and talking on the phone, but 34 percent of drivers polled in 2011 admitted they regularly text and drive, according to the group. The minimum amount of time texting takes away from looking at the road is 5 seconds, which, at 55 mph, represents about the length of a football field. Faster speed and longer inattention makes that distance much greater.
Most states have laws in place aimed at attempting to protect us from people texting and driving. In fact, 39 states, like Vermont, prohibit texting while operating a vehicle; 32 states prohibit new drivers from driving and texting; and 10 states prohibit all drivers from using any hand-held devices, including phones, GPS and even walkie-talkies.
Laws are toothless without enforcement, however.
Law enforcement needs to start taking the law seriously. Rarely do you see someone being arraigned or even cited to court for texting and driving. In Vermont, for junior operators, the penalty for driving and texting is $156, two points on the license, and a 30-day recall of the driver’s license or permit for a first offense. Adults with a first offense also face the same fine and points, but no license revocation. A second offense jumps up to a $329 fine and five points on the driver’s license. (Young operaters lose their license for another 30 days.)
Police certainly have more important things to do with their time than chase down people texting. But it would not take long for word to get around if a concerted effort was made.
You don’t need to read statistics to know what’s happening behind the wheel. Let’s just hope it does not take a greater tragedy than what we faced in 2010 to put teeth back into Vermont’s texting law.
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