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It’s time to start treating texting drivers like drunk drivers

January 26, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

The dangers to the public are nearly identical, so why not subject texters with the same fines, points, suspensions and possible jail time as intoxicated drivers?

Yesterday, I wrote about how texting and driving in Michigan is a dangerous epidemic made worse by the fact that penalties are minor and violations are rarely enforced. Texting and driving is now ubiquitous. It is nearly impossible to drive anywhere without seeing other drivers on our roads texting while driving. It is also now causing thousands of car accidents, as people plow into the stopped car ahead of them at red lights because they are texting instead of looking in front of them. As an accident attorney, texting is showing up more and more as the cause of many of the serious car wrecks that I litigate today.

Yet even when this or other forms of distracted driving causes a terrible car accident and causes life-changing injuries to other innocent drivers on the road, it’s often treated with the same seriousness as a parking violation. It’s no wonder that the country’s and Michigan’s distracted driving problem is getting worse.
If we want to get serious about stopping people from driving while distracted and causing car accidents, then we need to start thinking about ways to impose more serious punishments to stop it.

“Serious” in the sense that people will actually take notice and will change their driving behavior for the safer. In this regard, we can learn a lot about how society evolved to changing how it perceived – and tolerated – drunk driving. As punishments increased and as jail time was implemented for drunk drivers, the problem shrank.

We can learn from this. We can increase the sanctions for texting while driving in Michigan, and we’ve got plenty of room for improvement.

Currently, here’s what Michigan drivers face for violating the texting ban:

  • Civil infraction.
  •  $100 fine for the first offense.
  •  $200 fine for subsequent offense.
  •  No points on distracted driver’s license. (MCL 257.602b(5); 257.320a(2))

And that’s when it is enforced. I wrote a blog post about how few people in Michigan are actually even being pulled over for this. Enforcement is hit or miss, but largely miss, when compared to other states.

Doesn’t exactly make you shake in your boots, does it?

Time for Michigan to get tougher on distracted driving and texting

There are laws out there, which, if applied to texting Michigan drivers, could have precisely the desired effect to motivate or even scare Michiganders to put their phones down and watch the road.

I’m talking about the array of serious fines, points, license suspensions and possible jail time that Michigan law and federal law impose on drivers who insist on putting the public’s life and well-being at risk by driving drunk and/or while distracted.

Hopefully, Michigan lawmakers are reading this, because the distracted-driving trends that I wrote about yesterday could likely be reversed if we started treating texting motorists like we treat drunk drivers and distracted truckers.

The research shows the threats are the same: Applying DUI to distracted driving and texting

Research has shown that texting while driving and/or driving while talking on the phone is more dangerous than drunk driving.

So if the risks to the public are the same, shouldn’t texting while driving be punished as severely as drunk driving?

As I noted in my December 16, 2013, blog post, “Why doesn’t Michigan treat texting while driving like drunk driving?,” in contrast to the $100/$200 fine for texting drivers, drunk drivers may face the following:

  • Imprisonment/Jail time.
  • Tens of thousands of dollars in fines and responsibility fees.
  •  6 points on the driving record upon conviction. (MCL 257.320a(1)(c))
  •  Driver’s license suspension upon conviction.
  • Driver’s license suspension and 6 points on the driving record for refusal to comply with the “Implied Consent” law allowing police to inspect a driver’s cell phone and/or wireless 2-way communication device.

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