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In spite of state laws, texting while driving is still a problem

A recent op-ed in the Huffington Post asked what is now an age-old question: How many times have you texted while driving in the last month? That includes the times you even looked at your messages while at a stop light or stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. Really, how many times? We’re not here to judge.

Even if you honestly answer “none,” there is a follow-up question: How many times in the past month have you been distracted while driving? Texting is just one type of distracted driving, and researchers estimate that nine people die and 1,150 people are injured in distracted driving accidents every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distraction falls into three categories: visual, manual and cognitive. Visual distractions can be anything from rubbernecking while passing an accident scene to glancing at a ringing cellphone.

Manual distractions are things that take your hands off the wheel. Most baby boomers can remember grown-ups using both hands to light a cigarette while driving. Nowadays, drivers reach for a coffee mug or a CD — or a cellphone. It doesn’t have to be both hands to be a distraction.

Finally, the cognitive distraction is something that takes the driver’s mind off the road. A crying baby or raucous passengers may be the most common distractions in this category — that’s why California and other states limit the number of passengers that 16-year-old drivers can drive with.

Texting is the trifecta of distractions. The driver’s attention is not on driving, his eyes are not on the road, and his hand or hands are not on the wheel. Texting is one of the most dangerous distractions for a driver.

California is one of 39 states that have banned texting while driving. Here, in fact, all drivers, not just teens, are barred from using a handheld device while driving. Well, mostly banned.

Like other states, the law allows hands-free use of a cellphone or, as the statute puts it, an “electronic wireless communications device.” California also allows drivers to read, select, or enter a telephone number or name in order to make or receive a phone call. We also allow drivers to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the device.

The penalty for scofflaws? A $20 fine for the first incident, $50 for any incident after that.

The author of the op-ed, by the way, argued that maybe the country’s texting laws aren’t strict enough to deter the practice.


Huffington Post, “We Need to Consider Stronger Laws On Cellphone Use While Driving,” Brad Stulberg, Oct. 27, 2014

West’s Annotated California Vehicle Code § 23123.5 via Westlaw

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