Texting while driving laws might have unintended consequences

The ban of texting while driving might have had unexpected consequences.

A September 2010 survey by the Highway Loss Data Institute showed that crashes increased in three out of four states studied that had enacted texting bans.

The study concluded that the increase was most likely the result of drivers lowering their phones into their laps. Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Prickett said he is also seeing drivers lowering their phones to avoid the watchful eyes of deputies.

The 2011 AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index showed that 95 percent of drivers viewed texting or e-mailing while driving as a serious threat to their safety yet 35 percent of the same drivers reported texting or e-mailing while driving in the past month.

“It’s a very hard charge to prove,” Prickett said. “You have to actually see them doing it.”

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have banned text messaging for all drivers. On July 1, 2010, Georgia passed the law that stated cellphone usage to write, send or read text data to include texting,
e-mails and Internet usage is illegal. All cellphone usage is illegal for any driver under 18 years old.

Prickett said drivers can volunteer to show their phones to an officer to prove their innocence. Otherwise, deputies have to obtain a search warrant.

In 2011, Richmond County deputies wrote 17 citations under the texting ban.

No citations were issued in Columbia County, which has a policy to warn drivers before ticketing.

“Sheriff (Clay) Whittle wants to give everyone time to understand the law,” said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris. “It’s not a matter of issuing citations. It’s a matter of educating drivers.”

Prickett said Richmond County has been able to prove that two accidents were related to texting. One was the fatal crash of 18-year-old Jewel Miller, who died in a single vehicle crash on Hephzibah McBean Road five weeks before the law went into effect in Georgia.

Deputies have not been able to prove several other fatal crashes involved texting. Prickett said they suspect it was a factor in a March 16 crash where Gloria Jenkins, 27, crossed the center line on Peach Orchard Road and hit a tractor-trailer head-on and a Feb. 14, 2011, crash where Brooke Moye, 17, hit the back of a AT&T utility truck on Jimmie Dyess Parkway. Authorities said Moye never applied the brakes.

“A lot of times when you come up on an accident and there are no skids you know they were distracted with something,” Prickett said.

Deputies can sometimes narrow down that drivers were texting near the time of the accident, but they can’t determine whether they were texting at the time of the accident.

An open screen might be an indicator, but often phones are flung during the crash and are in pieces when officers arrive on the scene.

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