There were 24 fatalities on Idaho roads in 2014. At least a third of these accidents can be attributed to distracted driving, including texting while driving. Last Thursday, Reggie Shaw spoke about Texting while Driving at Boise State University. In 2006, then 19-year old Reggie Shaw made a fatal mistake. While driving to his friend’s house in Utah, he decided to text and drive. This decision resulted in the death of two rocket scientists and changed the course of Reggie’s life. In last Thursday’s speech, Reggie stated “While I was texting and driving, I decided that texting was more important than the lives of those two men and their families.”
In the aftermath of this crash, Utah adopted one of the most strict texting and driving laws in the country. Idaho, however, has one of the most lenient texting while driving laws in the nation. In fact, Idaho is behind the national trend, being the 37th state to implement a texting while driving law with the passing of code 49-1401A in 2012. In Idaho, texting and driving is listed as a minor infraction, with a fine of $81.50, compared to Utah’s texting while driving law, which carries a $750 fine and up to three months of jail time.
Cutting down on distractions while driving is one of the primary ways to improve driver safety and reduce accidents. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving without any distractions. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists the risk of driving a vehicle while texting as six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, recording slower braking response times for texting drivers than drivers with a BAC level of 0.08. Yet the repercussions for texting while driving in Idaho are minimal. Teenage drivers are especially susceptible to distracted driving. A 2014 independent survey conducted by WalletHub ranked Idaho as one of the top ten worst states for teen drivers based on safety and affordability. This means that teens on the road in Idaho are more likely to drive distracted in dangerous conditions.
This leads to the question: would Idaho benefit from having a more severe texting while driving law? Hearing stories like Reggie Shaw’s help increase awareness about the risk and consequences of distracted driving, but is it enough? The fear of criminal repercussions is certainly a deterrent, but many people believe that texting is simply not severe enough an action to warrant jail time or a heavy fine. The statistics point to a different story, however. Heavy consequences and social stigma against drunk driving have helped reduce the total number of fatalities on the road, but there is very little stigma towards distracted drivers. It’s easy to think texting is harmless, an easy way to pass time while you are making a commute. The reality, however, is far more terrifying. Laws and punishments are effective only to a point, it’s up to individual driver’s to make sure they are devoting all of their attention to the road. Listen to Reggie’s story and tell us what you think.