Distracted Drivers

Editor’s note: The News and Observer has a point/counterpoint today about the merits of the new law against texting while driving. Check it out here and here.

The New York Times reported recently that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for a “‘distracted driving summit'”  to be held in September to address legal and policy changes to combat the dangers of texting and talking on cell phones while driving. The Times reported that the Transportation Secretary’s announcement was made on the heels of a proposal by several senators to withhold federal highway money from states that fail to ban texting while driving.  This year, North Carolina joined the ranks of states (The Times reports there are 14 in all) that ban the practice.

New G.S. 20-137.4A makes it unlawful as of December 1, 2009, to operate a vehicle on a public street, highway, or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person. It is also unlawful to read email or text messages while driving. The ban does not apply if the vehicle is lawfully parked or stopped, or to law enforcement officers, fire department members, or ambulance drivers while they are performing official duties. Drivers are permitted to GPS systems and wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system along with voice operated technology. Texting while driving a school bus is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than $100. All other violations are infractions punishable by a fine of $100 and costs of court. No driver’s license or insurance points are assessed for a violation.  Moreover, a violation of GS 20-137.4A is not negligence or contributory negligence per se. The General Assembly ordered the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee to identify and study the leading causes of driver distraction, the risks posed, and methods to manage those distractions and promote highway safety.  The committee must report its findings and recommendations along with any proposed legislation to the General Assembly by April 15, 2010.

5 thoughts on “Distracted Drivers”

  1. Why an exception for law enforcement? Texting while driving a police car is as distracting for law enforcement as anyone else. Do officers receive special training in how to safely text message while driving?

    As dangerous as talking on a cell phone while driving is, it is surprising how often many law enforcement types do it. I rarely see a police car where the officer is not talking on a cell phone while driving.

  2. From my read of this law there are things that were left out that could have been incorporated.

    This law does not make it illegal (again, from my read) to use a mobile telephone to enter in text (not as a verb) for the purposes of taking self notes or memos (such as a shopping list, or “jotting” down things you don’t want to forget). This type of activity is very common for people who use these devices. However, the law only applies to people who either A) enter text (as a verb or noun) into a device for the purpose of communicating with another person.-This seems to make the law more limited. Or B) people who read e-mail or read text messages.

    In my opinion, the law should have applied to any person who uses an electronic devise capable of text being stored on to it. This leads to my second issue, what about users of non mobile devises. People who use iPhones for creating emails or sending text are acting unlawfully, while people who use an iPod touch to create an email, or send a text using a wi-fi signal are off the hook? Users of a blackberry are acting unlawful, but a user of a standard PDA are ok? My point is that just because one’s devise connects to a cellular network does not make his devise or actions more distracting. That act of using the devise is the distraction, not the technology that is built into the devise.

    In addition, it is just as distracting to create text/emails while driving along I-40 as it is if you were stopped at a stop light. From my read, it appears that if the vehicle is lawfully parked vehicle or stopped, then the driver is free to exchange communications using their devise. Why not make it illegal for the activity to take place on any public road, period, with no exception being made if the car is lawfully stopped?

    Lastly, while the enforcement issues are endless, I get that this law is more or less here to make drivers “think twice” about texting or emailing while driving. For that reason, the law is sufficient, but it certainly could use some “tweaking.”

  3. The distracted driving summit began today in Washington. An interview with U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood aired this morning on NPR’s morning edition. You can listen to the interview here:
    A report of LaHood’s opening remarks in which he referred to distracted driving as a “menace to society” is available here.


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