Should Texting and Driving Carry the Same Penalty as a DUI?

Texting and Driving Joplin MO

Everyone has seen it: a vehicle swerving lanes and traveling slowly in the middle of the day, perhaps during your morning commute or on the way home from work. It looks like a drunk driver, but is somebody really out driving drunk at this time of day? You pull up next to them and see that the driver is actually looking down at their cellphone. “Texting,” you think to yourself. “How dangerous.” Your right. It is dangerous, perhaps more than most than most people realize.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly one in five injury crashes in 2011 were caused by distracted driving. According to the same study, 387,000 people were injured in car crashes caused by distracted driving the same year. Those numbers are estimated to have greatly increased.

Current statistics published by are downright startling:

  • Texting makes a driver 23X more likely to crash.
  • 55% of young adult drivers claim it’s easy to text while they drive.
  • Teens who text while driving spend approximately 10% of their driving time outside of their lane.
  • Texting drivers on average take their eyes off the road for at least 5 full seconds before checking the road again while they are reading or responding to a text.
  • At 55 mph, that equals driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.

So how do these numbers stack up against drunk driving? According to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, texting while driving has surpassed drinking and driving as the number one cause of death amongst teens.

So law enforcement is probably out cracking down on these texting drivers, right? No, at least not in the State of Missouri. Missouri has no specific law that makes it a crime for adults to text and drive. In 2009, Missouri passed H.B. 62, which made it traffic violation for anyone under 21 to text and drive. The current version of the law, however, still does nothing to prevent adults from texting and driving. If someone under 21 is caught violating the law, the fine is only about the cost of a speeding ticket.

While Missouri is behind the curve in outlawing texting for drivers of all ages (its completely illegal in over 40 states), almost every state that outlaws texting while driving treats violations like regular traffic tickets. Nationwide the laws against texting and driving fail to recognize how dangerous the behavior really is.

Alaska, however, seems to have internalized the dangers of texting and driving has made it a serious crime punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.00 and one year in prison. Chances are the judge would not throw the book at first time offenders, and the maximum penalty would be reserved those who repeatedly break the law. The possibility of such serious punishment, however, should go a long way in deterring drivers from texting and driving. If more states enacted tougher laws for texting drivers, perhaps more people would come to understand that texting and driving is not acceptable. Thousands of lives could be saved.

In the meantime, make a commitment to yourself and those who depend on your continued existence to not text and drive. If you catch your teenager’s texting and driving, ground them and take their phone away. If they do it again, smash their phone into little pieces. They won’t be needing it because they will be riding the school bus and coming straight home every day until they get it, right? If that sounds like an unfair punishment, ask yourself if it would be fair for a teenager who was caught drinking and driving. Then remember that your teenager is more likely to die from texting and driving.

Taking a tough stance against texting and driving may save your child’s life. You might also be saving my child’s life. Certainly, you will be reducing the chances of you or your child being the subject of a legal claim brought by my office. And remember, texting and driving is always negligent driving. Therefore, if you text and drive, and injure somebody as a result, you are legally responsible for their injuries.

Take the text free pledge at