Using Technology to Tackle Texting and Driving in North Carolina

Last year, law enforcement officials throughout North Carolina issued 3,600 citations for texting-and-driving, which became illegal in the state for all drivers in 2009.
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People know they shouldn’t text and drive. They know it’s illegal. Yet, nearly a third of drivers admit doing it anyway. For those who are caught, it’s a traffic citation accompanied by a $100 fine. For those who aren’t caught, however, the consequences can be tragic.

Our Charlotte auto accident attorneys know drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, and 95 percent of motorists surveyed said they recognize the heightened danger.

Yet we continue to see cases like those of the 32-year-old Clemmons woman who crashed on Interstate 85 Business in High Point while posting “selfies” to Facebook and writing about how a certain song made her happy. Her last text was posted less than one minute before she veered into oncoming traffic and into the path of a tractor-trailer.

While laws banning the action are one step, technologists don’t believe they go far enough.

One effort that has been started and stalled repeatedly involves an engineer who created technology that would block incoming and outgoing texts and prevent phone calls from reaching a driver in motion. The engineer was inspired after a colleague with whom he was to meet that morning was killed on the way to work by a texting teen.

He sought – and initially received – support from Allstate Insurance, as well as cell phone carrier Sprint. The former funded the development of the technology, while the latter allowed the engineer to use its network to block texts.

The product was supposed to be released this summer in a widely-anticipated reveal. However, efforts stalled when Sprint feared it could be held legally liable if any of its systems failed. Allstate is still on-board, and as The New York Times profile recently reported, several other cell phone carriers are in talks to step in where Sprint stepped out.

The engineer conceded part of the problem is perception. People would have to buy into the technology, and that’s a little “like convincing teenagers that condoms are cool.” However, he is working on incentives. For example, auto insurance companies can pay fees to phone carriers who agree to carry the service on their networks. He’s also seeking partnerships with companies like Chipotle and Starbucks to entice teens to buy the service in exchange for restaurant rewards.

But this is only part of the solution to distracted driving accidents. What we learned with drunk driving and seat belt law compliance is these kinds of measures are only effective when combined with tough enforcement.

That’s why a Virginia-based company has developed technology that would allow police to detect when a driver is texting. It would work similar to a radar gun, and would emit certain radio frequencies when someone inside the vehicle is using a cellphone. In state like North Carolina, which have made motorist texting a primary offense, this tool could be invaluable to clamp down on the issue.

Statewide, citations for texting behind the wheel reportedly have steadily increased since passage of the law. In 2012, there were 1,925 texting citations issued to drivers. The following year, that figure increased to more than 2,600. The law was also expanded to allow for additional citations against commercial vehicle drivers, resulting in another 1,080 citations. The number of texting citations issued to school bus drivers statewide has also increased, from 18 in 2009 to 27 in 2013.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Trying to Hit the Brake on Texting While Driving, Sept. 13, 2014, By Matt Ritchel, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
UM/UIM Coverage in Multi-Vehicle Accidents, Sept. 14, 2014, Charlotte Distracted Driving Accident Attorney

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