Distracted driving fines need punch

distracted driving fines imageA swarm of newspaper editorials resulted from recent developments about distracted driving. Most of the editorials called for action at the state level to cut down on the use of text messaging devices and handheld cell phones.

The editorial board of the Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.) had something new to say, however. After making the usual points about the perils of distracted driving, the newspaper took aim at the puny fines most of these laws hand out:

“Silly, selfish behavior that puts people’s lives at risk should carry stinging penalties. … It’s time for a major crackdown on talkers and texters, and time for New Jersey to make cell-phone offenses really hurt. … These infractions should carry points, and those points should be non-negotiable. Drivers, when they appear in court, should not be allowed to plead to a lesser offense and fewer points. Repeat offenders should have their licenses suspended.

This is the only way to stop dangerous habits. And it’s the only way to break the addictive grip of technology so drivers can get both hands back on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”

The newspaper apparently didn’t get the word that California’s text messaging law went into effect eight months ago, but pointed to its fines as further evidence:

“California is mulling a law that would fine texters $20 the first time they are caught and $50 the next. Twenty bucks? That’s less than the cost of a fill-up.”

That’s a solid and seldom-heard take. States that feel their work is done in this area should examine just how much of a deterrent their cell phone and text messaging laws are for drivers who just can’t wait to communicate.

States yet to enact distracted driving laws should ensure that the sanctions have teeth — meaning fines that hurt and driver’s license points that register with insurance companies.

(Read the Star-Ledger editorial on distracted driving fines.)

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