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

Driving while texting may be more serious than driving while under the influence, creating greater dangers for other drivers on the road. Many argue that driving while texting should therefore carry the same legal penalties as DUI. What is it about texting when you drive that make it so dangerous, and is it really as bad as impaired driving?

Texting Worse than Driving Intoxicated

Multiple studies in simulation environments have gauged reaction times for drivers normally versus under alcohol impairment or while distracted by texts. The most famous of these studies was performed by Car and Driver. Researchers rented an airport runway in Oscoda, MI and put a red light on the windshield at eye level to simulate the lights of a car breaking ahead.

In tests, they established the norm by evaluating each driver to see their braking times when the lights flashed. The average time was about half of a second. Then, each driver tried braking while sending or reading texts and while sending or reading emails. Reading texts or emails slowed braking time so much that it took an extra 35 feet to stop. Sending a text or email took an extra 70 feet to stop on average. The implications of that are astounding, especially when you consider that being legally drunk only adds an extra four to seven feet of stopping distance. On average, intoxication lowered reaction times by less than the distraction of texting.

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So Why Do We Do It?

One thing that makes texting while driving so dangerous is the public’s perception that it’s not really dangerous. People are vigilant about never getting behind the wheel after drinking and understand the dangers of drinking and driving, understanding the clear danger that it presents. Yet most people do not appreciate the real problems with texting while driving.

Most likely, the problem is the pervasiveness of cell phones in general. They are ever-present, always on and never put away unless the battery is dead and they need charging. People rely on their smart phones for nearly everything, so it’s no surprise they would be reluctant to put restrictions using them. People simply refuse to accept the dangerous reality because they don’t want to give up the tether to the rest of their lives. We need to honestly look at this situation ask some questions:

  • Is 30 minutes in the car without my phone really going to hurt?
  • What am I so worried about missing?
  • Can’t it wait?

The obvious answers are “No,” Nothing, really,” and “Yes!”


The penalties for DUIs are stiff, and for good reason. So why do texters only get a slap on the wrist? Drivers shouldn’t wait for the laws to change. There were as many as 500,000 distraction related traffic fatalities last year alone.

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