Studies show distraction while driving, which includes talking on the phone or texting, is a leading causing of serious personal injury and death in this country. According to the National Highway Safety, 25 to 30 percent of reported car accidents involve drivers who are not paying attention. Drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in injury related crashes than other drives. Yesterday, Governor Quinn signed a bill that will make it illegal text message while driving in Illinois. The ban will take effect on January 1, 2010. The City of Chicago banned texting while driving last year.
According to Findlaw.com, young drivers are the most likely to be effected by the texting ban while driving. Almost half of drivers ages 18 to 24 sent a text, instant message, or e-mail while driving. Cell phone distraction is also a problem for drivers 25 to 34, twenty seven percent of whom have also sent a text, instant message or e-mail while driving.
At least one Illinois legislature questions the efficacy of the texting ban. State Senator Kawame Raoul (D-Chicago), who voted against the legislation, told the Chicago Tribune "If I believed this new law was going to curb texting while driving, I'd be gun ho for it." Raul went on to say "but I think what we're doing is passing a law that will have limited, if any, deterrent effect. It will be difficult to enforce. How an officer from his or her vehicle determines that a driver is texting is beyond me."
Whether there is a sufficient deterrent effect will likely depend on whether the penalty is sufficiently severe and how well the texting ban is publicized. As a practical matter, the deterrent effect will be difficult to measure in the short term. If necessary, stiffer penalties may be necessary (as well as more publicity) to reduce texting while driving.
Senator Raul also suggested he is troubled by the potential privacy interests raised where an officer would look at a motorists' cell phone to determine if he or she was texting while driving. Like many areas of the law, privacy interests must be balanced against other competing issues. Given the increasing dangers associated with texting while driving, individual privacy interests must be weighted against the real safety interests of other motorists and pedestrians. For this reason, it would not be surprising if someone challenges the ban on texting while driving based on constitutional grounds. Whether public safety interests would ultimately prevail remains to be seen.