Drunk Driving vs. Texting while Driving: Does the Penalty Match The Crime?

Drunk Driving vs. Texting while Driving: Does the Penalty Match The Crime?

Studies continually show that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. While most of us wouldn’t even consider getting behind the wheel after a drink or two, many Americans (both teens and adults) admit to texting while operating a vehicle.

Motor vehicle accidents are responsible for more than 30,000 deaths every year. With numbers this high, it’s imperative for governing bodies to implement laws that help reduce risky driving behaviors.

The National Highway Safety Administration released a study that revealed that in 2012, an estimated 421,000 people were injured in car crashes involving a distracted driver. This should serve as more than enough motivation to start cracking down on texting drivers.

Current legislature dictates that texting while driving is illegal in most states, but in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Arizona, it’s still permitted under the law.


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The good news is that texting while operating a school bus is illegal everywhere but Montana, Missouri, and Arizona. Lawmakers overwhelmingly agree that school bus drivers should not be allowed to use their mobile devices while driving the kiddies around. For those parents in Montana, Missouri, and Arizona – seems like it might be time to rally for restricted phone usage policies while their children are on board.

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Beyond a behavior being “legal” or not, there is a significant variation in the penalties for breaking these laws. In Florida for example, the fine for texting while driving is just $30, whereas a DUI ticket is $1000. It is completely illogical that texting drivers should get off so easy compared with those who are inebriated. It’s just as dangerous – so why should the fine be 3% of the cost?

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In 42 states, you can go to jail for driving while intoxicated, but in only 2 states will you end up behind bars for texting while driving. Utah and Alaska clearly have stricter distracted driving laws than the other 48 states.

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In Alaska, interestingly enough, the fine for drunk driving is $1500 – which seems like a lot – until you see the penalty for drivers who are caught texting: $10,000! This is a state that recognizes the dangers of distracted driving and has subsequently imposed a fine to fit the offense.

California is just the opposite. In this west coast state, the penalty for texting and driving is a mere $20 ticket, whereas a DUI translates to a $1000 fee, a 4-month license suspension, and up to 6 months in jail. Why does California take drunk driving so seriously, but not distracted driving?

It’s not just California, though. In nearly every state, texting is viewed as a far less serious indiscretion than driving under the influence. Only Utah and Alaska recognize the seriousness of the crime and assign fines accordingly.

With distracted driving on the rise, it’s important to consider the ramifications of the activity. Today, most of us know not to get behind the wheel after over imbibing, but drivers take a much more carefree approach to “no texting” laws.

The facts and figures make it clear that texting is as likely to cause an accident as drinking when it comes to operating a vehicle, so it’s astounding to see states with such discrepancies in their penalties.

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