More States Make Texting While Driving a Ticketing Offense

More and more, states are targeting<""> texting while driving. Now, in the U.S., 34 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have put in place texting-while driving bans. What’s more, Washington D.C and 31 states consider texting while driving a primary offense, meaning violators can now be pulled over and ticketed, according to a USA Today report.

Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said California, New York, and Maine are among the states in which police officers are allowed to pull drivers over specifically for driving while texting, said USA Today. In Nevada’s case, the activity becomes a primary offense January 1, 2012; warnings will be issued until the effective date, said USA Today. Nine states made texting-while-driving a primary offense in 2010, and four more—including, most recently, Maine, have done so this year, including Nevada, Adkins said. “With any highway safety law, primary is the most effective,” Adkins noted, wrote USA Today.

Federally, no law prohibits cell phone use when driving. Neither is a national database in place for texting citations, but some states and counties do keep track, wrote USA Today. According to Chris Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, that state saw 7,924 texting convictions in 2010, nearly triple 2009’s 2,845 citations. Texting and driving was made a primary offense there in 2009, USA Today explained. Assistant director of marketing and public affairs for the Office, Chris Cochran, said the increase was likely due to the law being in its second year and that more law enforcement agencies knew of and were active in its enforcement, wrote USA Today. Continued increase is expected.

In New York, texting while driving became a primary offense in July and the Department of Motor Vehicles said it issued 4,634 tickets in 2011 through mid-September, which is more than the 3,248 issued in 2010. “When the seat-belt laws first went into effect, very few people actually buckled up. Now seat belt compliance is over 90%,” said New York DMV spokeswoman Jackie McGinnis. “With increased education and enforcement, we look forward to the day when compliance with the hand-held device laws will be at the same level as seat belt use,” McGinnis added, according to USA Today.

Lt. Marcia Harnden of Washington State’s Bellevue Police Department described enforcement as a “transition,” saying, “We actually put ourselves in close proximity to the cars…. A lot of times [the phone is] down on their lap or down on the steering wheel … people are so distracted that they don’t even realize we are right there,” wrote USA Today.

We previously wrote that following last year’s launch of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s online video series, “Faces of Distracted Driving,” the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was looking into technology to disable cell phone operations in automobiles. The “Faces of Distracted Driving” series explores the tragic consequences of texting and cell phone use while driving and features people from across the country who have been injured or lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes.

We also wrote that, in 2009, the DOT reported that nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in accidents involving a distracted driver. The 500,000 injuries are an underestimation according to Paul Atchley, a University of Kansas scientist and expert on distracted driving. According to Atchley, the Secretary’s data includes actual known distracted driving injuries and deaths, suspected deaths and injuries are not included and are suspected to be significantly higher, and growing.

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