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Texting law needs strength to be effective

Staff Report • Apr 2, 2012 at 9:46 AM

The U.S. Department of Transportation says distracted drivers are to blame for nearly 6,000 highway deaths annually in this country.

Driving distractions include eating, drinking, talking on cell phones, or sending and receiving text messages. It’s the latter distraction that has public safety officials most concerned.

Highway safety advocates and insurance carriers warn it is never a good idea to view or send text messages while driving. It seems strange that drivers would have to be warned against sending or reading text messages. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials nationwide have blamed a number of deadly accidents in the last few years on texting.

New federal rules specifically ban text messaging by truck and interstate bus drivers. If caught texting on the highway, commercial drivers can face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

President Barack Obama has also urged states to get tough on distracted drivers, something that Tennessee lawmakers did in 2010 when they passed a law that carries a $50 fine and an additional $10 for court costs.

It is a non-moving offense, which means no points will be added to the offender’s driving record. That makes it a weak law, and one that doesn’t do enough to serve the public good. Lawmakers should consider giving it some teeth. A stronger law against distracted driving — one that carries a penalty on an offender’s driving record — would help dissuade most Tennesseans from texting while driving.

We agree with Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, who said last year that public awareness campaigns alone are not enough to change behavior.

“Good laws with strong enforcement are what is needed,” Adkins recently told the Associated Press. “Many drivers won’t stop texting until they fear getting a ticket.”

He’s right.

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