State right in targeting distracting drivers

Published 8:59 am Monday, July 8, 2019

On your way to and from work or school or while running errands, how many drivers do you pass who are talking on their mobile phones? Or texting? Or maybe they’re looking at an email, cradling a device in their hands and in turn not paying attention to traffic? Likely a lot.

That’s called distracted driving, which research continues to show is the nation’s No. 1 highway safety issue. In fact, phone addicts are replacing drunken drivers “as the public threat on public roads and streets.”

Drivers in Tennessee could face fines if they’re caught using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel as the new law took effect July 1. The new distracted driving law makes it illegal to drive while holding or supporting a cellphone or mobile device with their bodies, with hands-free devices allowed.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Distracted Drivers Law went into effect July 1.

The fine for violating the law the first time is $50, which can be waived if the driver takes a driver education course. Fines go up for subsequent offenses and in construction and school zones.

According to NHTSA, drivers who are talking on their phones are four times as likely to be involved in a crash as those who are not and the odds of being in a crash increase 23 percent when a driver is texting or sending an e-mail. NHTSA data also shows that drivers 16-24 are the biggest offenders when it comes to using their phone while driving. 

Since 2007, this age group has been observed using hand-held electronic devices while driving at a higher rate than any other age group. In fact, 8 percent of people killed in crashes involving teen drivers in 2017 were killed when those teen drivers were distracted at the time of the crash.

According to Hands Free Tennessee, there were 24,600 crashes involving a distracted driver in Tennessee in 2018. A recent study revealed that from 2015 to 2017, Tennessee had the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the nation, at 7.2 distracted driving deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles. Tennessee’s rate is nearly five times higher than the national average of 1.49 fatalities per 10 billion vehicle miles.

Enough is enough, and people texting and driving have been putting the safety of others at risk for far too long. 

The state has offered some very practical advice that includes: 

• If you’re expecting a text message or need to send one, pull over and put the vehicle in park.

• Make a passenger your “designated texter.” Give them access to your phone to respond to calls and messages.

• Use a cell phone holder and voice commands or bluetooth devices if calls must be made or answered while driving.

Drivers are allowed to use GPS to navigate. If the phone is mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard, windshield or center console, drivers can use one swipe or tap to turn a feature on or off.

And, perhaps the most practical for those people who just can’t seem to control themselves: Put your cell phone in the trunk, glove compartment, back seat or somewhere else it cannot be reached to avoid temptation. Distracted driving kills an average of nine people and injuries more than 1,000 every day in the United States, according to AAA. 

It is time for police to treat the distracted driver as harshly as the drunken driver.