August 20th, 2007

Texting Driver Charged with Negligence in Fatal Accident

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A man involved in a three-car accident in Utah that killed two men in 2006 was charged in August with negligent homicide – for driving while texting. Lawmakers are beginning to hear the message from ergonomists and other experts that any cell phone use behind the wheel is a dangerous distraction. The Utah accident could lead to stronger calls for a ban, at least against DWT – driving while texting.

It is not difficult for prosecutors to prove. Defendant Reggie P. Shaw’s SUV crossed the center line as he made the early morning drive between the towns of Tremonton and Logan in September 2006, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. His vehicle clipped an oncoming car and caused it to spin into the path of a pick-up, which crashed and killed its driver and a passenger. Officials obtained cell phone records, which showed Shaw sent and a received text messages as he drove. The last message was sent just as he crossed the center line, clipping the oncoming car, according to the court records.

Nearly a dozen states are trying to outlaw text messaging behind the wheel, the Tribune noted.  

Workers Comp Insider wrote in March this year that Washington state has moved to establish stiff fines “for this absurdly dangerous practice.” It pointed out that England is ahead of the United States in establishing limits on what drivers can do behind the wheel. Those caught texting are subject to US $100 fines plus 3 points on their driving record. [The points add up to disqualification from driving for a year or more.] The publication notes that in south Wales, drivers can be fined US $1,800 for texting while driving, making that text message a very expensive communication.  

A University of Utah psychologist interviewed in 2006 by The Ergonomics Report™, a publication for subscribing readers with a professional interest in ergonomics, stated that drivers on cell phones are as bad as drunks. The interview with Professor Frank Drews was about a study he and Professor David Strayer, the lead investigator, published in June 2006. The two scientists quantified the danger of talking on the phone while behind the wheel. As keying in and reading text messages requires even more concentration and distraction from what is happening on the road, it follows that lawmakers could begin viewing DWT and DUI – driving under the influence of alcohol – as equal evils.

Sources: Salt Lake Tribune; Workers Comp Insider; The Ergonomics Report™ 



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