Enforcement of Anti-Texting Laws

As texting has increased to become a ubiquitous activity, so has texting while driving. Fully 46 percent of users in an online poll admitted to texting while driving – and those are just the ones who ‘fessed up.

Distracted driving – whether applying mascara, chatting on a cell phone, or increasingly, texting , caused 3,000 deaths in 2010 alone. 39 states have laws banning texting on the books, but enforcement and penalties among states vary widely.

Connecticut & Massachusetts Texting Laws

These two Northeastern states are really cracking down on drivers who text. Each state recently received a federal grant of $275,000 to develop aggressive anti-texting enforcement campaigns, which include such strategies as posting police officers on overpasses so they can get a better view of drivers’ hands.

Fines in Connecticut were increased in July 2011 to $125 for the first offense, then $250, then $400. In 2011, 40,000 texting-while driving tickets were issued in the Nutmeg State.  Massachusetts fines drivers $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 for the third. Massachusetts has issued fewer tickets, roughly 1,700.

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, is personally behind the federal program says “we have come a long way in our fight against distracted driving, but there is still much work to be done. Texting behind the wheel is especially dangerous, which is why we’re working with states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to address this important safety issue.”

Statistics bear him out: texting elevates your risk of a crash 23 times. Unfortunately, texters are much harder to catch than cell phone talkers. The grant program will train officers in how to spot this even more dangerous form of distracted driving.

Georgia vs. New Jersey Texting Laws

Georgia severely under-enforces their anti-texting law, on the books for nearly three years. The fine for a first-time offender is $150. Only 1,300 citations have been issued, sending a signal that enforcement of the ban is not a high priority. Georgia Tech professor Robert Rosenberger states that “we tend to recognize that cell phones transform others into poor drivers, but also tend to think that we are each ourselves an individual exception to that rule. Thus, one of the main reasons that enforcement of anti-texting regulations is so important is that it conveys a strong and clear message that cell phone usage while behind the wheel is dangerous.” He proposes outlawing all cell phone usage, which as seen in the case of Connecticut and Massachusetts, would make enforcement against all types of distracting driving easier.

New Jersey provides a contrasting case. Their police officers issue 91,000 cell-phone-related tickets each year, and both talking and texting on a cell phone is outlawed. Their policy seems to be working, as driver inattention contributed to only 178 New Jersey fatalities in 2011, contrasted with the less-populated Georgia experiencing 3,840 traffic accidents (fatal and non-fatal) due to cell-phone distraction. Even factoring in non-fatal New Jersey accidents, when tickets for texting go up, crashes and deaths go down.

Utah Texting Laws

Here in Utah, we have one of the toughest anti-texting laws in the nation.

Zero Fatalities is Utah’s campaign combating distracted driving. Its program director, Brent Wilhite, summed up the law thus: “If you are just caught texting while driving, it can be up to three months in jail and a $750 fine. And if you kill someone, it’s up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

Researchers at the University of Utah have found that driving while texting increases impairment at double the rate of drunkenness. You’re more likely to be hit by someone who has been texting than someone who is drunk.

The 2006 case of Reggie Shaw, a nineteen-year-old who texted while driving and killed two scientists, galvanized the state to take action. Police were able to determine by looking through Shaw’s phone records that he and his girlfriend had been texting back and forth immediately prior to the crash. Other motorists saw him swerving. Utah’s law took effect in May 2009.

Use Caution

If caught texting in Utah, you could be hit with a misdemeanor; should you cause someone’s death while texting behind the wheel, that charge can grow to a felony.

If you have been involved in a crash where the driver had their eyes on an SMS rather than the road, contact Christensen & Hymas today. Utah’s tough anti-texting laws are on your side, and police officers across the country are becoming more and more effective at enforcing them.

Image courtesy of: Pixabay 

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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