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Distracted Driving Awareness Series, Part 2 of 4 – Finding Solutions

Laura Thomas April 16, 2018

Distracted Driving Awareness Month takes place every April, and in recognition of this- Biesterveld & Crook, LLC. is conducting a series on distracted driving and the dangers it has on injury accident cases. Part 2 of our four-part series, Finding Solutions, speaks to the legislation in place and the ongoing efforts to crack down on this dangerous driving habit.

Current State Bans and Restrictions

Nearly every single state has banned text messaging while driving for all drivers, regardless of how much experience a driver may have. 47 states and the District of Columbia have adopted this ban. Two of the remaining three states without enforced bans on texting and driving are Montana and Arizona. Neither of these have a ban of any sort in reference to texting and driving. The third state without a complete ban of texting and driving for all drivers is Missouri. In Missouri, the ban only applies to drivers who are 21 years of age and younger. Legislation proposed by State Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, if adopted, would ban texting while driving in Missouri’s school zones.

In Kansas, writing, sending or reading written communications with a mobile device is banned by K.S.A. 8-15,111.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, states can have either primary or secondary enforcement on distracted driving. The vast majority of states have primary enforcement, which means drivers can be pulled over on just suspicion of texting and driving. For states with secondary enforced texting bans, such as Nebraska and South Dakota, law enforcement must have witnessed the crime being committed or have another reason to stop a vehicle in order in order to pull a person over.

A study conducted several years ago by the University of Alabama at Birmingham concluded that states enacting primary enforced texting and driving bans saw fewer deaths than those who use secondary enforcement. The study was done using data captured between 2000 and 2010 by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, as these years feature changes in laws and bans regarding cell phone usage while driving. Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, Alva O. Ferdinand, Dr. PH, states “the results indicated that primary texting bans were significantly associated with a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups”. That number equates to around 19 deaths prevented each year in states with such bans. Those few states with secondarily enforced restrictions did not see any significant reductions in traffic related fatalities.

Some states feature very specific laws related to ages of drivers, locations of where they are at on the road, and the circumstance. For example, in Oregon, drivers may not hold an electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a highway. The same law is effective in Washington, but it specifically mentions that this includes time while temporarily stopped in traffic or at a stop light. California allows drivers 18 year of age and older to send or listen to text messages through voice activation or hands-free devices. Oklahoma does not permit cell phone usage while driving for learner’s permit and intermediate license holders, unless in a life-threatening emergency.

Possible Penalties for Texting While Driving

Although the laws are significantly different from state-to-state, the punishments generally involve some combination of fines, criminal charges, and/or jail time. LegalMatch states that fines can range anywhere from $20-$500.

In Kansas, texting while driving fines typically cost around $60, although this can be different depending on the situation. In some states, criminal misdemeanor charges can be charged from texting and driving. Those states include Alaska and Utah. In cases where injuries to another driver or individual occur, jail or prison time may be imposed. The punishments are subject to increasing with repeat offenses. Occupational drivers can sometimes incur higher punishments as well, as commercial drivers and school bus drivers are sometimes held to stricter standards.

Other consequences can include: driving record infractions, suspension of driver’s license or privileges, mandatory attendance of road safety courses, and/or vehicle impoundment.

Education and Awareness Efforts

AT&T recently launched an It Can Waitcampaign to encourage people to pledge to drive distraction free. As of Monday, April 9th, 2018, the campaign had over 24.5 million people pledge to not text and drive.

Virtual reality technology and distracted driving simulations have helped to educate adults about the dangers of diverting attention from the road. One of these experiences can be viewed on the It Can Wait campaign site and features a 360-degree simulation showing real consequences of looking at a phone while driving. Try it for yourself here. DO NOT ATTEMPT WHILE DRIVING.

The site also has various advocacy documents and information for those who wish to heighten awareness for texting and driving. The hashtag “#itcanwait” is being used to spread awareness through social media sites as well.

Similar campaigns by other safety advocacy groups are listed below:

Impact of Laws and Efforts Thus Far

While progress is being made each year in cracking down on distracted driving, there is still a long way to go. For instance, according to the National Safety Council- none of the 50 states currently have a law in place that completely bans all electronic device use behind the wheel. And just a few short years ago, CBS News reported that nine Americans are killed every day in car wrecks resulting from distracted drivers.

Although the stricter bans being enforced are proven to be more effective, there are common misconceptions about the worst age ranges of offenders. CBS News reports that many believe teenagers are the primary violators. However, adults between the ages of 25 and 40 were proven to be the most common texting and driving offenders.

Finding the root causes of why people text and drive continues to be a primary focal point in eliminating the problem. In a public opinion poll conducted by the National Safety Council, 82% of Americans reported feeling pressure from their families to text and drive. This can be attributed to the fast pace society and the need to respond quickly to people’s messages. Of those surveyed, 67% said they were at risk because of other drivers texting and driving while behind the wheel, yet only 25% said their own texting and driving habits were putting others at risk. This “not me” stigma stems from drivers feeling they are better drivers than those around them.

Cell phone blocking applications and devices are on the rise, which helps to eliminate the temptation of the distraction all together. These technologies allow drivers to enable blockers on their electronic devices so that they will disable text messaging and other functionality while the vehicle is in motion. Settings can be adjusted by the user so that emergency calls can still be sent and received. Some applications, such as LifeSaver and Live2Txt, even allow triggered text message responses to automatically be sent out to individuals who send texts while you are driving. An example message might say- “I am unable to answer your text message at this time, as I am currently driving. I will get back to you soon.”

Join us for Part 3 of our distracted driver awareness series next week as we delve further into the technologies used to detect and deter distracted driving and how injury attorneys can obtain the information to prove cell phone use contributed to an injury car wreck.