A survivor of a texting-related crash is among those calling for a stronger penalty for drivers who use their smartphones while behind the wheel.
In 2017, DeeDee Gonzalez was riding her motorcycle in Rancho Palos Verdes when a driver hit her head-on while he was looking at his smartphone. She was thrown from her bike, sustained multiple traumatic injuries, and could not walk for months after the crash. Though a survivor, she will need some form of physical therapy for the rest of her life.
“The legal consequences for texting and driving are not as severe as drinking and driving, which I will never understand. They’re both reckless behaviors,” Gonzalez said. “The law has not caught up with technology and I’m hopeful, maybe I’m optimistic about things getting better,” she said.
Gonzalez this week joined Assemblymember Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, and AAA to call for a stronger penalty for drivers who use their smartphones while behind the wheel.
Assembly Bill 47 would add a point to a driver’s Department of Motor Vehicle record, in addition to the current fine, for those who violate the state’s ban on using a handheld electronic device while driving.
“The Governor and Legislature banned texting while driving in 2008, and later prohibited drivers from all uses of electronic devices while behind the wheel,” Daly said. “Unfortunately, we continue to see a large percentage of drivers ignoring those laws, putting themselves and others at risk. This bill will reduce distracted driving by adding a point to a driver’s DMV record for three years per violation. If this bill becomes law, California’s roads will be safer for drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.”
“Just a few seconds of distracted driving can cause a lifetime of suffering and regret,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “We all have the power to make our streets and highways safer by making the choice to keep our eyes on the road and off of the phone. Join me in making the choice to do the right thing.”
Not everyone will be a survivor.
Despite bans on handheld use of smartphones, the threat is growing. A new AAA distracted driving survey of California drivers shows 10 percent of adults say they always or frequently use their smartphone while driving, even though it is against the law. The study also finds adult drivers who are significantly more likely to drive ‘intexticated’ are between 25 to 39 years old and/or those who send and receive more than 50 text messages per day on their smartphones.
The survey also revealed:
- Nearly half (46 percent) of those who admit to driving ‘intexticated’ do so for navigation. Other popular reasons cited for using smartphones behind the wheel included searching for audio or music, believing that someone required a quick response, and feeling more productive.
- Ten percent of those surveyed say they have been involved in a crash in the last five years in which they believe distraction played a role.
- Drivers surveyed said they were most likely to drive while ‘intexticated’ when they were alone in the car.
The survey is part of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s (AAA’s) “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” Initiative, which aims to make texting while driving as socially unacceptable as drunk driving.
“In our latest survey, nearly half of the drivers who responded said they would stop using their smartphone while driving if violating the distracted driving law resulted in driver record points,” Doug Shupe., AAA corporate communications and community programs manager, said in a prepared statement. “That’s why we believe, in addition to education and public awareness campaigns, AB 47 would be a step in the right direction and save lives.”
Currently, the only penalty for violating the state’s distracted driving law is a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent violations ($160 and $285 with state and local penalty assessments added). Points, and the potential for driver license suspension if too many points are accumulated, have been show to change driver behavior in studies by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
“It’s just plain selfish for someone to pick up their phone and start using it while driving,” said Assemblymember Jim Frazier, chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “Is it worth it, taking the chance you might kill somebody’s child, wife, husband, brother, sister or parent? Please don’t drive ‘intexticated.’”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9 people die every day from distracted driving and more than one thousand others are injured. Not everyone is a survivor.
For more information on preventing distracted driving, click here.
- Motorcycle-Vehicle Crash: Shutterstock