If a Tennessee prosecutor has her wish granted it could soon be a felony to text and drive in the Volunteer State.
Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen claims that more needs to be done to deter drivers from texting while driving. She has referenced a recent fatal accident involving two school buses as evidence that a change needs to be made.
During the crash investigation it was discovered that the driver of one of the school buses was texting just prior to the collision. Tragically, the crash resulted in the death of two Knox County students and a teacher’s aide. The bus driver who was found to be texting died at his home on June 1, so he obviously cannot be charged.
“I think this is an example of how technology is ahead of the law. Right now the laws on the books are simply misdemeanors – C misdemeanors with a $50 fine and 30 days of probation, and clearly this case demonstrates to us the horrific effects of texting while driving and how the punishment for that crime definitely needs to be looked at.”
Making it a felony to text and drive is more appropriate, she said. With such a change, a driver could face the threat of prison.
“”Regardless of who the individuals were, what the individuals’ backgrounds were, this crash was caused by one specific major issue and that was texting while driving,” Rausch said. “Texting while driving any vehicle is dangerous. Texting while driving a school bus with children on it is insane.”
The problem that the prosecutor is looking to solve is real. When an individual makes the decision to text and drive they put themselves, the passengers in their car, and the other drivers on the road at a heighten level of risk.
It is not clear why texting and driving is so often determined to be more risky than other forms of distracted driving. The argument could be made that it is more distracting to eat a meal, apply makeup, or even interact with children while driving.
Additionally, one of the most common contributing factors to motor vehicle accidents – lack of sufficient sleep- is hardly ever discussed when looking for ways to make roads and highways safer.
Rational people agree that texting and driving can make operating a vehicle more difficult. Just as they agree that drinking and driving can delay reaction time, thus making driving under the influence of alcohol dangerous.
However, this does not mean that every time someone operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or plays on their phone while driving that they are an imminent threat to harm others and therefore deserve to be punished, potentially with a felony charge if Charme Allen has her way. Following this logic would lead to the abolition of all drive-thru windows, because it would purport to halt eating while driving.
One of the reasons there is a raised awareness surrounding drinking and driving, as well as texting and driving, is because measurable and traceable evidence of abuse can be obtained. The ability to qualitatively or quantitatively analyze the trends does not justify the implementation of pre-crime laws. Alcohol levels and text message exchanges can be measured, but partaking in these activities does not denote a correlation to an impending rights violation.
Even though it may be a poor decision to eat, drink, or text while driving, this does not make doing so tantamount to damaging the property or livelihood of others. Doing any of these things while operating a vehicle does not magically infringe on the rights of others, but these behaviors very well could make it more likely for someone to infringe on another’s rights or damage property.
Even from a utilitarian perspective pre-crime laws make little sense. If someone is not deterred from operating a vehicle while distracted, due to the risk of personal injury or harm to others, then why would a felony charge act as an enhanced deterrent?
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