Is North Carolina’s Texting-While-Driving Law Keeping You Safe? Highway Patrol says ‘No.’

Recent news reports about North Carolina’s law against texting while driving indicate that the law has had little effect on curbing distracted driving in the Tar Heel State.  Distracted drivers remain a serious threat on North Carolina highways.

Reports by TV stations in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte areas quoting Highway Patrol officials indicate that the state’s 5-year-old texting-while-driving law is challenging to enforce and is failing to protect motorists.

“Distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, is contributing to more and more collisions that we see out there,” N.C. Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon told WNCN in Raleigh earlier this month. “The traffic’s moving along, someone’s not paying attention, then all of a sudden they run into the back of somebody. And what’s happening is they’re looking down and not looking up.”

The highway patrol says the problem is the law contains multiple exceptions, making it difficult for police to determine when a motorist is violating the law.

The statute is aimed at texting while driving, and makes it illegal to compose messages “as a means of communicating with another person” or to read email or a text message. But the law allows a driver to text if their vehicle is lawfully parked or stopped, such as at a stoplight. The law permits drivers to look up phone numbers, type in that number and look up addresses while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The law also allows drivers to look at social media websites like Twitter and Facebook as long as the driver is not typing in text. Drivers may also legally scroll through their music library, or use apps, games and GPS devices.

Trooper Joshua M. Church told WGHP in High Point that troopers observe drivers texting on a regular basis, but proving that they were on a texting screen at the time of the alleged offense is crucial to prosecution. “(B)ecause of the way the statute is worded, we’re seeing occasional times in court where the cases are either getting dismissed or found not guilty by the judge.”

“Hey, look, this is a big deal. People are getting hurt, people are getting killed,” Church told WGHP in High Point. “Statistics are in now that are comparing the danger of texting while driving to that of driving while impaired.”

The numbers also say the law has not worked to slow the rate of texting while driving.  Since its adoption in 2009:

  • In 2010 – 591 drivers were ticketed for texting and driving in the state of North Carolina.
  • In 2011 – 904 drivers were ticketed for texting and driving.
  • In 2012 – 1,038 drivers were ticketed for texting and driving.
  • In 2013 – 1,435 drivers were ticketed for texting and driving.

From January 1 to October 20, 2014, 1,307 people had been cited under the law statewide — putting the state on pace to surpass the 2013 numbers by early December, WGHP says.

Burgin told WBTW that when the distracted driving law was written in 2008, texting and emailing were just becoming popular on phones. Since then, technology has changed, but the law has stayed the same.

Meanwhile, the WBTW report recounts the death in February of 75-year-old Lavon Ramsey. She was walking to a next-door neighbor’s house when she was hit by a car driven by Belinda Hudspeth, who was high on prescription drugs and texting on her cell phone.

In April, 32-year-old Courtney Ann Sanford died in a car crash on I-85 in High Point moments after posting a message to Facebook, WNCN says.

The WGHP reporter was with Church on I-40 this month when he pulled up beside a driver who had her phone in her hand and was not wearing a seatbelt. “The female driver continued to use her phone, even as Trooper Church initiated the traffic stop. She also did not have her license. But again, Trooper Church was not able to cite her for texting and driving.”

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