In the first three months of 2012 – more than 7,600 people died in auto accidents in the United States. This sharp increase in fatalities represents a 13.5% increase over the same period in 2011.
According to CNN, traffic officials were reluctant to speculate on any causes that led to the increased spike. However officials did note the abnormally warm winter, which meant better driving conditions for the frequently snow-stranded. While public officials are quick to point out the warm winter even government bureaucrats should know sloppy driver habits don’t change with the weather. Unmistakably drivers who text, tweet or email are more likely to cause a serious car wreck.
In a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation, texting while driving multiplies a driver’s exposure to accident by nearly 23 times that of a non-distracted driver. Studies have shown that reading or responding to a text averts the driver’s eyes an average of 4.6 seconds or the same as driving the length of a football field, blind, at 55 mph.
ASSEMBLY BILL 1536
On January 1, 2009, California banned the sending of electronic text messages while driving and imposed a $20 fine – hardly a significant deterrent for most offenders. In addition, to the already weak enforcement mechanism, recent passage of AB 1536 will further dilute efforts to curb texting behind the wheel.
The bill dubbed as the Freedom to Communicate Act, allows Californians to circumvent the anti-texting law by creating a notable exception to the state’s ban on texting and driving. Specifically, the new bill allows drivers to send texts using voice activated or hands-free systems. The exact language of the bill states that a driver may use an electronic wireless communications device “specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication.”
While this eliminates much of the legal hurdles for hands-free systems such as Ford’s Sync, still there remains much ambiguity for mobile providers. In particular, the bill doesn’t specify what devices are covered and it’s unclear whether it’s legal for the driver to touch their smart phone to activate the speech to text functionality, e.g., iPhone with Siri.
Despite this glaringly obvious uncertainty in enforcement the new law is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013.
Published August 18, 2012