The most effective way to stop drivers from texting might be the threat of criminal charges.
Texting while driving is illegal in 46 states. (Text messages are not the sole culprit—there are dozens of possible distractions on your smartphone—but only 16 states ban all hand-held devices for drivers.)*
You don’t need statistics to know that drivers are constantly breaking this law. Just stand at an intersection on any busy street, and count the number of drivers who are looking down.
If the fear of a citation isn’t enough,
and fear of a crash isn’t enough,
what will stop this dangerous behavior?
Texting drivers get charged with manslaughter
A driver does not have to intend to kill anyone in order to be guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
In most jurisdictions, the prosecution must prove that the driver operated a motor vehicle in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, and, that their conduct caused a fatality.
This Ohio woman was facing serious jail time after striking a group of teenagers with her Ford Escort.
A 14-year-old girl was pronounced dead at the crash scene. Another girl died later at the hospital. A 15-year-old boy was seriously injured.
The investigation revealed she was texting while driving.
- Two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
- Two counts of vehicular homicide.
- One count of vehicular assault.
- One count of driving while texting.
In June 2018, she was sentenced to serve 6 years in prison.
On a Texas highway in March, Jack Young, 20-year-old Texas man, plowed his truck into a small church bus.
A passenger in a vehicle behind his truck had called 9-1-1, and recorded video of his dangerous driving just before the head-on collision.
Thirteen people were killed.
After admitting that he was texting and driving, Mr. Young was charged with 13 counts of manslaughter. That’s a second-degree felony charge, and each count can bring up to 20 years each in prison, according to the local District Attorney.
These are preventable car crashes, not “accidents”.
A 23-year-old woman in Pennsylvania was texting when she ran a red light, struck another car, and fatally injured a pedestrian. She was charged with homicide by vehicle and related offenses, pleaded guilty, and is awaiting sentencing.
In San Diego, a texting driver lost control of her car and hit 2 little girls on the sidewalk. The District Attorney filed charges, and alleged the driver was texting; the jury found the defendant guilty of distracted driving and vehicular manslaughter.
A mom responding to a text from her kid rear-ended a Honda, causing a pile-up on a Minnesota highway. A young woman died; her fiancee sustained a traumatic brain injury. The texting driver was charged with criminal vehicular homicide, and criminal vehicular operation that resulted in great bodily harm.
Vehicular homicide in Washington State
Washington’s law (RCW 46.61.520, below) seems to be primarily applied to crashes caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs (emphasis added).
However, the language could seemingly be applied to a fatal crash caused by a distracted driver.
(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:
(a) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or
(b) In a reckless manner; or
(c) With disregard for the safety of others.
(2) Vehicular homicide is a class A felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that, for a conviction under subsection (1)(a) of this section, an additional two years shall be added to the sentence for each prior offense as defined in RCW 46.61.5055.
My hope is that harsher penalties and fines, along with increased awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, will make real and positive changes.
My fear is that people won’t change their behavior until they see other drivers prosecuted and jailed for the senseless, tragic injuries and deaths they cause.
This post was originally published 7/16/17; it was updated on 12/20/18.