Texting while Driving – A U.S. Law Perspective

by tylercook on May 3, 2012

In Kansas City, Missouri, 16-year-old Rachel Gannon was recently charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter after she lost control of her car, crashing into a vehicle driven by Loretta Larimer, a 72-year-old woman. Larimer later died from her injuries. The teenager was distracted by loud music and texting when she caused the crash.  Larimer’s 10-year-old granddaughter, a passenger in the vehicle, was also injured in the crash. Gannon has been charged with third-degree assault for the granddaughter’s injuries.

A Missouri law that was passed in 2009 prohibits drivers who are aged 21 or younger from text messaging. This case has encouraged Eric Zahnd, the prosecutor who filed the charges against Gannon, to pursue a bill that would ban all texting while driving, regardless of the driver’s age. Although similar bills have been introduced in Missouri, they have not yet become law.

Distracted Driving Impairs Drivers

Cases such as Gannon’s have raised concern about the dangers of distracted driving. Studies have compared the level of impairment caused by texting while driving to the level of impairment caused by driving while drunk. Since 2006, 79 people have been killed in crashes that involved drivers who were distracted by their cell phones while driving in Missouri. The impact of distracted driving has become a heated topic nationwide. Many states have recognized the high level of distraction posed by cell phones and have enacted bans against texting while driving.

A pair of preliminary studies point to strong evidence that texting while driving is extremely dangerous and that there is no safe way to do it. The results of these studies were recently discussed at a medical conference, and have not yet been released. One of the studies was conducted by high school students in Oklahoma. In this study, high school students used driving simulators while they texted with their phones in a variety of positions. Regardless of the phone’s position, these distracted drivers were between four and six times more likely to swerve out of their lane, posing a risk to nearby cars and pedestrians. Although the results have not yet been officially released, they strongly suggest that there is no safe way to text while driving.

Laws Banning Texting While Driving

Currently, 37 states ban texting while driving. Several other states have similar bills pending. Most recently, the Alabama Senate voted to ban texting while driving. Although the bill had previously passed the House without allowing for exceptions, the Senate created a version that allows texting to contact emergency services, obtain GPS data or while stopped in traffic. It is expected that the bill will become law, but it is uncertain which version will pass. Both the House and Senate must approve the same version of the bill before it can be signed into law.

Personal injury attorneys and car accident attorneys support these laws as an effort to promote safer driving. According to the National Safety Council, approximately 1.3 million car crashes per year are caused by drivers who are distracted by their cell phones. Distracted driving increases the likelihood of accidents and puts other drivers at risk. The best way to prevent distracted driving accidents is to keep your cell phone out of reach so that you are not tempted to use it while you are driving. If you need to make a phone call or get in touch with someone, stop your car first. Pull over into a parking lot or a safe distance off the road.




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