Letter to the editor: Update ND’s distracting driving law
Kelsie Myers grew up in Crosby, N.D. She loved to snowmobile, Jet Ski, sing, dance and spend time with her friends. She was a sweet kid with a promising future. Tragedy struck her family and friends when she was killed at age 19 after her car was hit by a freight train west of Minot.
Myers was simply driving home from work - a route she drove every day. The railroad crossing did not have a traffic gate, and she was distracted and did not see the train in time, according to railroad personnel.
North Dakota’s texting-while-driving ban was enacted in 2011, three years after Myers’ death. But, unfortunately, despite our best efforts in 2011, the distraction that resulted in her death would not have been illegal under this law.
The distraction that resulted in her death was caused by her looking for CDs in her center counsel. Not texting.
Nearly every state joins North Dakota in banning texting while driving. As a result, distracted-related injuries and deaths have improved, but far too many Americans still lose their lives in preventable vehicle accidents. The statistics speak for themselves.
In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in car crashes; 10 percent of all fatalities were distraction related. More than 2.31 million people were injured in a crash; 18 percent of all injuries were distraction related. There is no dispute that distracted driving is more than dangerous. It’s deadly.
But the statistics also show that texting only accounts for a small portion - less than 15 percent - of our distraction-related injuries and fatalities. The majority of distraction-related crashes - crashes that claim the lives of people like Myers
- are caused by distractions other than texting while driving.
Unfortunately, North Dakota’s existing law does not discourage distracted driving. Instead, we only ban the act of texting or transmitting data, while overlooking many other potentially deadly distractions.
What does this mean? If you’re driving, it is illegal to send a text or email or even browse Facebook or the internet. But all offline uses of your phone, including reading, typing and using offline apps, is not prohibited. This means it’s legal to type a text message while driving, but illegal to send it.
House Bill 1430 modernizes North Dakota’s law to reflect this oversight and discourages the act of distracted driving rather than simply sending a text. Traffic injuries and fatalities do not discriminate based on the type of distraction, and neither should our traffic laws.
(Mock, a Democrat, represents District 18 in the
North Dakota Legislature.)