Some would say it’s time teens learned that texting while driving could have a cost the younger generation won’t want to pay. But pay they will if the verdict a Massachusetts jury rendered this summer has the impact that safety experts hope for. In the first ever case of its kind, the jury convicted an 18-year old of vehicular homicide and causing an injury while texting, sentencing him to two and a half years in prison on the first charge and two years on the second charge. His driver’s license was suspended for 15 years.
The teen veered into on-coming traffic and hit the car of a 55-year old New Hampshire man while texting, killing him and seriously injuring his passenger. The teenager will serve a year in prison on both counts.
The verdict is important. Teens across the country admit to texting while driving even though they know it’s dangerous. A nationwide AAA survey in 2011 showed that 95% of drivers 16 and older said text messaging and emailing while driving was dangerous yet 35% admitted doing it in the previous month. Sixteen percent admitted to reading text messages or emails “while driving on a freeway in heavy traffic fairly often or regularly.” The annual AAA survey was the fourth of its kind. Other studies have shown similar results.
In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that researchers at the North Texas Health Sciences Center in Fort Worth found that texting while driving “accounted for 16,141 deaths between 2002 and 2007.” The researchers said their statistics show these deaths increasing from 4,611 in 2001 to 5,988 in 2007. They suggested that criminal charges for texting while driving would be an effective deterrent and advocated using telephone records in accident cases to provide proof.
According to a Governor’s Highway Safety Association report, “38 states ban text messaging by all drivers and 31 prohibit all cell phone use by ‘novice drivers.’” I
In 2011, Governor Rick Perry vetoed a bill to ban texting while driving in Texas, saying it would “micromanage” adult drivers. While the North Texas Health Science Center study did not list the ages of those who died in texting accidents, it’s safe to assume that texting teens in Texas are hitting and killing grownups just like the teen in Massachusetts.