Texting + driving = illegal

Posted 7/6/10

“The idea behind the new law is, we're trying to tell people we want to limit their distractions while driving,” said Cody Beers, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

As for citing texting drivers, Powell Police …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Texting + driving = illegal


{gallery}07_01_10/txting{/gallery}As of today (Thursday), texting behind the wheel is illegal. A new law makes it a misdemeanor for motorists to write, send or read text messages. Violators face a $75 fine. The state transportation department says Wyoming is one of 28 states to have a texting while driving law. Tribune photo illustration by Carla Wensky Wyoming now prohibits texting while driving Effective today (Thursday), text messaging while driving is illegal in Wyoming, because legislators and law enforcement officials want drivers to focus on the road.Under the new law, police can stop drivers and give them $75 tickets if they believe motorists are texting and driving. Proving a driver caused a car crash while texting, although tricky, could happen.{mosloadpositionuser201}

“The idea behind the new law is, we're trying to tell people we want to limit their distractions while driving,” said Cody Beers, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

As for citing texting drivers, Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers said it will be difficult to ascertain whether a motorist is simply dialing a number, which is legal, or texting behind the wheel.

“This one is going to be difficult to enforce,” Feathers said.

However, proving a driver was texting before a car crash, if law enforcement suspects just that, is legally sanctioned. Police could subpoena telephone records to determine what the driver was doing moments before the crash. But whether they would seek those records likely will depend on the severity of the motor vehicle crash, Feathers said.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said if police see an open cellular phone at an accident scene and suspect its use just prior to a crash, they likely could exercise probable cause and seize the cell phone as evidence.

If law enforcement officers are investigating the cause of an accident, they could request a search warrant to obtain phone records to determine whether the driver was texting before the wreck. But they better have probable cause to convince a judge to sign a search warrant.

“Mere suspicion is not enough for a search warrant,” Skoric said.

Text for thought

It may be problematic for law enforcement to land convictions on texting drivers responsible for crashes.

It is far easier for police to link a distracted driver as the cause of the crash, but difficult to connect the crash to a texting driver, Beers said.

Using a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free device while driving slows a driver's reactions as much as a blood alcohol concentration of .08, according to the University of Utah study.

According to Wyoming law, a blood alcohol concentration of .08 is grounds for a drunk driving arrest. But it is far easier to detain a driver reeking of alcohol than a motorist who could simply deny they were texting prior to a crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that in 2008, 5,870 people died and 515,000 were injured because of distracted driving.

One in four (26 percent) of American teenagers of driving age say they have sent text messages while driving, and nearly half (48 percent) of 12- to 17-year olds said they've been a passenger in a car while a driver has sent text behind the wheel, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation study.

Still, adolescents are not they only ones.

According to the same study, adults are just as likely as teenagers to text while driving and are substantially more likely to have talked on the phone while driving. And 49 percent of adults said they were passengers while their driver was sending or reading text messages, said the Department of Transportation.

Beers' job demands plenty of travel. He sees many drivers texting in towns.

Can't that text message wait until they reach their destination?

“Is it really that important?” Beers asked. “Probably, it is not.”

Texting ties up the driver's fingers and his/her attention, snatching concentration from the responsibility at hand — safe driving. The best-case scenario is a driver is stuck with a ticket for texting while driving. The worst-case scenario is the driver is killed or kills someone else, Beers said.

As texting-while-driving legislation evolves, so will court rulings and police procedures to investigate text-related crashes, Feathers said.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol will note a distracted driver by their driving patterns.

“If, for example, we observe a vehicle weaving, see an unsafe lane change, or notice particularly slow speeds, this will alert us to seek the cause for the questionable driving patterns,” said Capt. Len DeClercq of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

“Time will tell how this law is enforced,” Skoric said.

Don't text and drive.