One of the biggest issues on Beacon Hill’s agenda for 2010 is a proposed ban on texting while driving. As Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote Jan. 12, the state Legislature is debating the details of a proposed ban, including whether police should be able to pull over drivers they see texting. Similar bills have already died in the Legislature for six years straight, the columnist wrote, despite the fact that nineteen other states, and the city of Boston, have their own bans. And, Jackson wrote, despite the fact that multiple studies have shown that texting while driving is “the hi-tech equivalent of driving drunk.”
As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen studies suggesting that Jackson is wrong — because texting while driving is actually more dangerous than driving drunk. In fact, one study, done in Britain, also found that texting while driving was more dangerous than driving under the influence of marijuana. The Royal Automobile Club Foundation, part of the British version of AAA, commissioned a study comparing the driving skills of drivers who were sending or receiving text messages; drunk; or high. Reaction times for the texters in the study dropped by 35%, while legally drunk drivers saw a 12% drop and drugged drivers saw a 21% drop. In addition, texters were a staggering 91% more likely to drift out of their lanes, as compared to 35% for the cannabis smokers.
Plenty of U.S. research has demonstrated that texting and driving is dangerous, but no formal study in the United States has compared texting and driving to drunk driving. However, Car and Driver magazine conducted its own informal study in 2009. On a closed course, the magazine measured reaction times at 35 and 70 mph for reporters who were sober, then texting, then above the 0.08 legal limit. The conclusion: Sending or receiving text messages increased reaction times significantly more than drinking. In fact, the older reporter’s reaction time of 0.57 seconds nearly tripled to 1.44 seconds when he was reading text messages and 1.36 seconds when sending them. At 35 mph, that meant traveling an extra 45 and 41 feet before the vehicle was stopped. By comparison, drinking gave him a reaction time of 0.64 seconds and seven feet of extra travel.
Given these results, it’s alarming that Massachusetts law penalizes drinking and driving so much more harshly than texting and driving. Reaching the 0.08 legal limit does not leave everyone intoxicated, but the law says you’re a drunk driver if you blow that number. And that means you face jail time, a license suspension, thousands of dollars in fines and a social stigma — even if there was no accident, no injury and no property damage. By contrast, Massachusetts law currently provides no penalties whatsoever for texting and driving, despite the evidence that it’s even more dangerous. As a Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense attorney, I hope the Legislature addresses this issue decisively in 2010, in a way that puts operating under the influence in a proper, fair perspective.
If you’re charged with operating under the influence or a related crime, you should call the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman as soon as possible for help. From a downtown Boston office, our firm represents clients throughout eastern Massachusetts in criminal OUI cases, RMV license suspensions and related legal matters. For a consultation or to learn more, you can call (617) 263-6800 or send an email through our Web site.