Friday, April 11, 2014

Efforts to Make Tougher Penalties for Texting While Driving

From: KOAA New Channel 5

A group of attorneys are saying distracted drivers are causing more accidents than those with DUI's. Local lawyers, part of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, are working to make penalties for texting and driving tougher.

While it is illegal in Colorado for anyone to text and drive, the fine is only $50. Attorney at law Jason Landress said the penalty should be more, as he sees the effects of distracted driving first hand.

"We deal with the way a person's life is changed forever because someone decided to pick their phone in a car," said Landress.

Landress said texting and driving should be treated more like a DUI. While he warns against making penalties too extreme, he thinks more should be done to deter drivers from picking up their phones.

"Some kind of step up process, either civilly or criminally, that gets people to pay attention because a $50 fine may not do it," he explained.

But would higher fines, or even higher charges, change people's habits? We asked a few drivers in Colorado Springs who said they weren't sure.

"It might, I think it's so part of the culture right now people would try to get away with it anyway," said Patricia Kalish. 

Landress and other Colorado lawyers said the first step toward change is raising awareness. "I don't think that people realize that last year texting and driving accounted for more deaths and injuries than did DUI," said Landress.

The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association has joined forces with the non-profit, End Distracted Driving (EndDD) to raise awareness and encourage lawmakers to up the penalties.

In fact, the measure will be brought up again this legislative session. Initially, the bill on using a cell phone while driving was expected to die this time around. But it will be brought back next week for consideration. Under the bill, offenses would be punishable by a $100 for the first citation and $200 for the second.

To put things into perspective here are some national statistics from about distracted driving:
- 71% of teens say they have composed/sent an SMS messages while driving
- 78% of teens and young adults say they have read an SMS message while driving.
- At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
- The number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes was 3,328 in 2012.
- An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012.