North Carolina Texting-While-Driving Penalty Too Weak?

Distracted driving used to mean:

  • The driver was eating lunch while driving.
  • The driver was putting on makeup while driving.
  • The driver was fishing around on the floor for something dropped while driving.
  • The driver was listening to loud music while driving.
  • The driver was talking to or arguing with other passengers while driving.
  • The driver was changing the radio station while driving.

Any distraction from keeping both eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel and the mind fully focused on the task at hand can be enough to cause a serious motor-vehicle accident in which people can get hurt or even killed.

But nowadays, distracted driving has been taken to a new level with the invention and proliferation of the cellphone and its myriad of distracting uses: talking, texting, surfing the Internet, managing e-mails and more. And many teens, already the most inexperienced drivers on the roads, are arguably addicted to those devices that have become like extensions of themselves.

In North Carolina, it is illegal to text and drive at the same time – a good safety law. But the only penalty for violating it is a $100 fine. That is a pair of tennis shoes for a teenager, not much of a deterrent.

Voices are rising in the state to toughen the penalty for texting and driving. The fine could be much higher and a license suspension could be imposed. Arguably, for the higher risk of potentially fatal harm to others, other sanctions could also be explored: community service, driving education classes about distracted driving, even a short time in jail.

Perhaps a zero-tolerance policy for younger drivers? Teens are notorious for thinking they are invincible and also for saying they will do one thing, but doing another.

A recent column in the News & Observer cites Tom Crosby of AAA Carolinas as promoting an automatic check of phone records in every fatal North Carolina accident to find out if the driver was texting or talking on his or her mobile phone at the time of the accident.

Source: The News & Observer, “Saunders: To stop texting drivers, hit their wallets,” Barry Saunders, July 31, 2012

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