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Texting's allure: Should the law be changed?

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THINKSTOCK.COM
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Date published: 12/5/2012

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This suggests the need for a legislative fix. But in the rush to counter a proven danger, lawmakers shouldn't overshoot the goal. Tightening the laws may heighten public awareness, but will it actually lower crashes? A 2010 study by the Institute for Highway Safety found that texting bans in four states did nothing to reduce accidents. In fact, the study finds that one "unexpected consequence" of tough texting laws is that drivers seem to attempt to "avoid fines by hiding their phones from view. If this causes them to take their eyes off the road more than before the ban, then the bans may make texting more dangerous rather than eliminating it."

Even so, interested groups like AAA Mid-Atlantic and Drive Smart are pushing for a "primary offense" texting law. That would bring the state into alignment with its neighbors. Thirty-seven states ban texting while driving, and in all but four it's an offense in itself. What's more, texting while driving is a growing problem. The Virginia Crime Commission reports that in 2010, officers handed out 285 tickets for texting, yielding 229 convictions. This year, just through October, those numbers jumped to 511 and 414.

A Drive Smart survey found that 94 percent of drivers agree that texting (or emailing) behind the wheel is unacceptable. A AAA Mid-Atlantic study shows that 33 percent of drivers had done it anyway within the previous month. The sound of a text arriving solicits a Pavlovian response in many of us, it seems, one we can't resist until the car in front of us is in our lap.

The General Assembly should address this issue. Make texting a primary offense. But reserve jail time for the most egregious cases that result in actual harm to people. And let's get the message out: Texts can wait.


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