Guest Post by: Dixie Somers
The increase in serious and fatal injuries caused by distracted drivers prompted an upsurge of new legislation in many states in the U.S. These bills and laws are targeted at criminalizing texting and driving, in an effort to prevent it. The legislation ranges from statewide initiatives to substantial imprisonment. Take a look at the type of legislation that is taking the punishments surrounding texting and driving up a notch this year.
The Texas Bill
In Texas, state representative Tom Craddick’s attempt to have a statewide ban on texting and driving might make it into law. Craddick attempted to introduce a bill in the past, which attempted to fine distracted drivers $100 for a first time offense, and a $200 for subsequent offenses. The 2015 bill is significant because Texas is also looking at making texting and driving a misdemeanor.
Other states have ramped up the legislation even more aggressively. For instance, in Florida, texting and driving is currently a secondary offense. This means that a police officer cannot pull over a vehicle simply for texting and driving. However, Florida legislation proposed that texting and driving become a designated primary offense within the state. This will allow police officers to pull over vehicles that they observe texting and driving, without the need for an additional principal violation.
Furthermore, legislation in Florida seeks to increase the criminal penalties when a fatality occurs due to texting and driving. The introduced legislation proposes that when a deadly motor vehicle collision is associated with texting, the penalty could include up to fifteen years of imprisonment.
Other Efforts Nation-wide
The lawmaker’s movement to seriously criminalize texting and driving is not isolated to Texas and Florida. Other states such as Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia all have texting and driving bans as well. And, in Maryland, lawmakers seek harsher treatment than that already in place. In Maryland, there was already a ban on texting and driving. In certain instances, a driver could face one year of incarceration, in addition to a $5,000 fine. The new legislation in Maryland calls for three years of incarceration on top of the fine when a serious crash is the result of texting and driving.
The Other End of the Phone
The legislative response to distracted driving does not end at criminal penalties. States such as New Jersey are setting the tone in civil courts. Not long ago, New Jersey opened the doors for imputed liability to an individual who is texting a person they know is driving and know will open the text, even though they are not in the vehicle. This argument likely has a lengthy debate ahead, considering that this would be extremely difficult to enforce.
Though the range of punishment differs, there is a consensus, namely, states are responding to texting and driving with harsh criminal sanctions as well as other ways to hold parties responsible.