SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Getting Texting Message
A few years back, I would regularly pass a former state legislator on his drive from his coastal county home to the state capital.
He'd never notice me. Maybe he didn't because he was often too busy reading the newspaper.
Despite his habit of distracted driving, I never heard of him having a traffic accident on his drives to Raleigh.
But distracted driving, particularly when it involves using a cell phone, has been a particular concern of legislators in recent years.
Former Rep. Mary McAllister, a Fayetteville Democrat, would regularly introduce bills to ban using cell phones while driving on North Carolina roads. The legislation always failed.
In 2006, though, North Carolina legislators passed a law banning beginning drivers from using cell phones.
Now legislators have a new distracted driving target in sight: text messaging.
So far, four separate bills have been filed that would ban text messaging or other alternative uses of cell phones while driving. The text messaging ban has particular resonance because of several highly publicized, deadly accidents that occurred while drivers were punching in or reading a message on their cell phones.
Text messaging by a train engineer in California has been blamed on a crash of two trains that killed 25 people. In New York, five teens were killed in 2007 when an SUV hit an oncoming tractor-trailer. The teenage driver's cell phone had been used to send and receive text messages moments before the crash. In Great Britain, a member of the House of Lords was prosecuted in a fatal wreck after his cell phone was used to send a text message.
Still, legislating by anecdote can sometimes create more problems than it solves. And teens and young adults infatuated with text messaging will no doubt ask how their little habit differs from a legislator reading a newspaper or even someone reaching into a McDonald's bag for a Big Mac while tooling down the highway.
North Carolina already has a law on the books that would seem to take into account all forms of distracted driving which endangers others.
Reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor. It's defined as operating a vehicle "in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others" or driving "without due caution" so as to endanger others.
A driver who swerves into traffic while habitually text messaging, reading a newspaper or reaching into a McDonald's bag would seem to be operating a car without due caution.
Text messaging, though, seems to be a unique problem.
One study found that 46 percent of teen drivers admitted to text messaging while driving. Perhaps more troubling is a study showing that North Carolina teens regularly ignore the law prohibiting them from using a cell phone for any purposes while driving.
The teens apparently believe the law isn't being enforced.
That's the real rub for state lawmakers: Why pass another law involving cell phone use if you can't find ways to enforce it?
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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