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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,912
April 12, 2018
Texting While Driving Dangers
By Mike McManus

More teenage drivers are dying from texting while driving than from drunk driving!

In recent years, roughly 2,700 teenagers were killed in drunk driving accidents compared to more than 3,000 dying in car crashes caused by teens texting while driving.

The Maryland House passed a bill to reduce these deaths by levying a fine of $500 for a first offense. However, the MD Senate did not approve the bill and it died. At present, the fines are $75 for a first offense, $125 for a second, and $175 for a third offense.

Opponents, including House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore, say a $500 penalty is simply too costly for many Marylanders. However, proponents note that judges have wide latitude in deciding whether to assess the maximum fine.

Proponents say Maryland's tiered system, is clearly not an effective deterrent. "People are paying these fines and they keep using their cell phones," said Del. Frank Turner, the bill's sponsor. "I see people driving all the time with a phone in their hand. It just seems out of control."

He said he felt government needs "to get serious about stopping people from using cellphones." His bill passed in the House by a narrow margin, 78-58 when 71 votes are needed for a bill to pass the House.

Nonpartisan legislative analysts did not estimate what impact the legislation could have on residents' pocketbook or state revenues, because judges have "wide discretion" in setting fines, and might not vary much from the present three-tier system.

Drivers in Louisiana pay $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. In Maine first time offenders pay $250 and repeat offers have their licenses suspended and pay at least $500.

However, the national average penalty for a first offense of texting while driving is about $110. In California the fine is a pittance: $20. Arizona and Montana have NO fines for texting while driving!

This is foolish.

Would you ever drive the length of a football field at 55 mph blindfolded? That is essentially what a person is doing when texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting behind the wheel takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds.

That's the time it takes to go from one end zone to the other!

Dangerous? Incredibly. Deadly? You bet.

Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. That's one out of every four car accidents in the United States.

In fact, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk! Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds.

Here's the bottom line: in 2012 3,328 people were killed in distraction related crashes.

Another 421,000 people were injured in such crashes.

According to an AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway.

Yet 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. What's more, teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near crashes when talking or texting on a cell phone. A teen driver with only one additional passenger doubles the risk of getting into a fatal car accident.

In 2015, 3,477 people were killed in distraction-related crashes. Another 424,000 people were injured in crashes involved a distracted driver.

Further, in 2013, 10% of all drivers aged 15 to 19 involved in fatal accidents were reported to be distracted at the time of the accident.

One fourth of teenagers respond to at least one text message every time they drive, and 20% of teens and 10% of parents report having multi-text message conversations while driving. In fact, nearly half (48%) of drivers admit to answering their cell phone while driving, and 58% of drivers continued to drive while talking on the phone. And 14% of drivers said they read text messages or emails while driving.

In 2016 Louisiana State University's Highway Safety Research Group logged 137,271 crashes in the state. Of those, 972 were caused by drivers using a phone, with 331 of those wrecks involving an injury (http://datareports.lsu.edu/reports.aspx?p=ci&yr=2016&rpt=F6).

How can we save 9 lives a day of people killed by texting while driving and 391,000 injuries in a year?

I favor the $500 fines for the first offense.

Do you? If so, write or call your state legislator to save lives!
___________________________________

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

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