Senator Holdman has introduced SB 18 which is designed to curb the scourge de jour – texting while driving. I should probably create a “ripped from the headlines” legislative category. Every year, it seems there is an issue or two that captures the media’s attention for awhile, thereby making its way into a legislative agenda.
In this bill, a new section is added to IC 9-21-8 which says “A person may not use a telecommunications device to transmit a text message or electronic mail message while operating a moving motor vehicle.”
This bill highlights some of the difficulties in drafting legislation. Sometimes it’s tough to keep up with technology. The bill changes the definition of “telecommunications device” to include “The term includes a: (1) wireless telephone; (2) personal digital assistant; (3) pager; or (4) text messaging device.” But, at times, you’ll find the difficulty of keeping up with new technology is really a matter of confusing the bottle with the wine. Often enough, even if the drafter recognizes this problem, there isn’t much to be done if the courts or the legislator are focused on the bottle.
In this case, the problem being addressed is the fact that the driver isn’t paying attention to the road. Whether the attention is focused on a text message, a cell phone, a book, a CD case, a map, or a screaming child isn’t terribly important in terms of the actual risk of driving while not paying attention. But, the way the politics are set up and probably the way the case law has developed, simply attempting to penalize “driving while distracted” probably would not be effective, even though that’s the real problem.
tim zank says
I’ve always wondered Doug, why a plain old “reckless driving” statute doesn’t suffice. If you cause an accident because of cell phone use, big mac attack, nose picking, whatever, shouldn’t it be just common sense? Why do we need “specific” statutes?
Isn’t this a prime example of how we’ve over thought most things?
Drunken driving could also be categorized as ‘wreckless driving’ ,if we we had allowed ‘Big alcohol’ to frame the ‘rules of the road’.. Will cell phone companies have input in writing ‘no-texting while driving’ laws? Or is is just the ‘big government is always bad’ ideology that is the fear?
One thing that has been so starkly clear with the constant daily ‘debate’ on the health bill is that the dangers pointed out have more to do with private profit than public safety.Even ideology has its price tag. And every message is crafted and targeted by media-savvy experts.
I’m all for tougher driving laws. That said, “distracted driving” should be against the law, and it should encompass everything from texting to other cell phone use to reaching into your groceries in the back seat.
All of those actions will kill someone just as easily. I’m fine with separating distracted driving from DUI, because with drug or alcohol use, you’re impaired for the entire time you’re behind the wheel, not just a few seconds. However, I don’t put distracted driving more than one “notch” behind DUI.
Short point: If you kill or maim someone because you couldn’t be bothered with doing nothing but driving, you lose your license for good. If while under the influence, jail time should go along with it.
Robby Slaughter says
Why must we create laws that are designed to change behavior through enforcement? A much smarter approach would be a law regarding cellphones, not cellphone users. Consider:
“Any cellphone with the ability to determine its current velocity within ten miles per hour shall be required to disable the text-messaging feature while the cellphone is moving faster than twenty miles per hour.”
Yes, this law would limit people who are just passengers in cars or riding public transport, but it allows us to begin to tackle the problem in a way that doesn’t require punishing people. Seems more reasonable to me, and better for the state economy!
To answer Tim’s question, we need specific statutes to limit police and prosecutor discretion. One person shouldn’t receive a ticket for driving while eating, reading the paper while driving, or some other activity, while the next person doesn’t get a 2nd look about it. Police officers and prosecutors already have a lot of discretion, we don’t need to increase it.
The way I read the statute, it appears that surfing the web while driving is acceptable. So is the use of Twitter and all of the wonderful iPhone apps. IF (big if) we want to enforce this type of law, the bill should be rewritten to include those types of functions.
Texting is no-doubt a problem, but a more serious issue IMO is tailgating. In the immortal words of Yosemite Sam, “Back Off!”
The trouble with driving while distracted as a crime is that it’s inevitable given the boring nature of driving, doubly so for commuting day after day past dingy strip malls, garish billboards and fields of corn stubble as is typical here in hoosierland.
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute did some studies which showed the average driver takes eyes off the road 4.6 seconds to compose a text message. I would probably take ten times that long, but I’m no Tiger.
They calculated the texting-related increased accident risk at 20x.
Risk of dialing a cell phone was 2.8x.
Reaching for an object was 1.4x.
Not sure of the methodology. But it does appear that texting is in a special category of high risk.
Wow, T, thanks for the detail there. I agree with PCR, data apps that are not text messages can be just as distracting, as many of them serve the same function but are not “true” text messages.
Robby, I’m sorry but your idea is far too disruptive. I just came back from New York on business in a car with a coworker. The person who was not driving was constantly replying to emails and dealing with work issues, that was part of the reason we drove back rather than flying.
That would also discourage using public transportation. One of the advantage to using PT is that you can use your data devices and get work done instead of drive.
MartyL, being bored while driving is no excuse. Taking your eyes off the road can kill people. They will never grow any older, never get married, never have kids, never be a grandparent just because someone got bored and sent “OMG no she didn’t! LOL!”
However, I still think that laws should be more broad so they are easy to enforce and we don’t so many of them that we can’t remember what is illegal and what isn’t. If you’re weaving on the road enough that an officer notices, it shouldn’t matter if it is because you’re on the phone, sending a text, drunk, or arguing with your spouse. Once you stop paying attention to driving to that extend, it should have a heavy penalty.