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State right to target texting and driving



Kentucky authorities say they will be stepping up efforts in the days ahead to enforce the state’s law against texting and driving. They are launching a program they call U Drive. U Text. U Pay.

We’re all for it. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that texting drivers are a menace. And all of us who drive witness far too much of it.

The statistics on texting and driving are telling. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says its studies show texting and driving is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. A study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis finds that texting and driving currently causes 3,000 deaths and 330,000 injuries per year.

The University of New York at Potsdam reports that texting while driving has now replaced drunk driving as the leading cause of accidents and deaths for teenage drivers. It cites studies showing that a texting driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than someone who forgoes the practice.

The proportion of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has dropped 52 percent since 1982. But the proportion that are not alcohol-related has jumped 78 percent during the same period. The rise in texting and driving clearly plays a role in that.

Kentucky’s anti-texting law went into effect in 2010. It is in our view a weak law relative to the risk, but you have to start somewhere. Kentucky’s law provides for fines of $25 for the first offense and $50 thereafter, plus court costs, for people who text while driving. It bans texting for drivers of all ages while a vehicle is in motion. But it allows people over 18 to read, select or enter a name or phone number for the purpose of making a call while driving.

Under Kentucky’s law, drivers under 18 are not allowed to use cellphones at all while a vehicle is in motion, which we think is a good provision.

The primary weakness in Kentucky’s anti-texting law is the penalties. The fines for a violation are proportionate to a seatbelt violation. They are not proportionate to the risk posed by the offense.

One reason for the reduction in the rate of drunk driving over the years has been the substantial fines and lengthy license suspensions that come with a conviction. It would take a lot of political courage, but given the studies showing texting and driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving, certainly a case can be made for stiff fines and license suspensions for engaging in the activity.

We think that much as happened with drunk driving, which a couple of generations ago was merely winked at, penalties for texting and driving will increase if the deaths and injuries from the practice continue unabated.

For the present we will say that we are glad Kentucky has a law and that law enforcement is planning a push to get people to abide by it. It’s a step in the right direction, although we think more legislative work on the issue will eventually be needed.

— The Paducah (Ky.) Sun



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