Texting and Driving a Problem in Nebraska

Introduction

A very serious problem that is affecting Nebraskans today is the multitude of drivers who check and respond to text messages on their cell phones while driving. There are drivers of all ages and abilities that have been guilty of this dangerous practice. Everyone traveling on the roads with these drivers is at a great risk of being involved in a serious, and sometimes even deadly, car accident because of their negligence.

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In the state of Nebraska, it is only considered a secondary offense and law enforcement officers on the roads cannot pull over a driver for texting while behind the wheel. This has created a dangerous atmosphere where the dangers are not taken seriously. The Nebraska state legislature should make texting while driving a primary offense in this state in order to save lives by reducing distracted driving accidents.

Problem Statement

A large amount of serious car accidents caused by texting and driving happen every day in Nebraska resulting in deaths and injuries. This is a problem that can be addressed if Nebraska starts to follow the examples of many other states. Texting and driving bans exist in forty seven U.S. states. (Distracted Driving) It is a primary offense in most of them. It is only considered a secondary offense in four states. These are the states of Florida, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. (Distracted Driving) Since, Nebraska only has it as a secondary offense, it isn’t taken seriously enough by some drivers. Police officers can’t pull people over for that alone. This leads to many tragedies on the roads that could have been avoided. It is a proven fact that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to send or read a text message is long enough to cover a football field while driving 55 miles per hour! (Johnson) This fact should prove how serious this issue really is.

Iowa is a state that borders Nebraska and is a good example of the benefits of making texting while driving a primary offense. On July 1, 2017, it was made a primary offense there. This has given a plan for Nebraska’s future if it is made into a law here. (Stewart) The number of tickets went up over 620% that were issued to drivers who were texting while behind the wheel in the last year, according to the Iowa state patrol. (Stewart) Drivers in the state that were caught breaking this law were issued 1,700 tickets in just the first year alone. (Bolten) There are many drivers in Nebraska that are guilty of this dangerous practice also so it would provide a good source of revenue for law enforcement. These extra funds can be used to hire more officers to patrol the roads and highways, especially at peak driving times such as rush hour. The money can also be used help fund Educational programs and Public Service Announcements to raise awareness to this issue throughout the state. In Iowa, a $100 fine as well as costs for going to court are what most drivers ended up paying who broke the law in that state. (Bolten)

When a reporter from WOWT named Rachel Urbanski was able to ride with a Nebraska state trooper in July 2018, she was able to see first-hand and report on how many drivers are out there with this problem. (Distracted Driving Crashes on the Rise) She learned and was able to tell us all about the experiences she saw and learned of from Trooper Jeremiah Foster on the amount of distracted drivers he typically encounters. (Distracted Driving Crashes on the Rise) He provides a typical experience of the officers patrolling our roads unfortunately.

Solution

There are many Nebraska state senators that agree the state should make texting and driving a primary offense. They look to and mention Iowa frequently when they talk about new laws they are proposing. An example of one such politician in Nebraska in Senator Merv Riepe. He has been vocal about his belief that Nebraska law enforcement should be able to ticket drivers that are caught texting while driving and that Nebraska should follow Iowa’s path to making it a primary offense. (Distracted Driving Crashes on the Rise) Another state senator named Roy Baker even tried to introduce a bill to make it a primary offense. (Kipper) The Council Bluffs area of Iowa and the Omaha area of Nebraska tend to share many drivers, especially for employment and shopping purposes. This is an important fact that needs to be stated by Nebraska politicians trying to get the texting and driving laws tightened here.

There is research that proves that harsh punishments before education might be successful at stopping the practice of texting while driving. (Owner) If it is made a primary offense in Nebraska, people would be less likely to risk doing it while driving. There have been great strides made in three different areas in public health in the recent past that can prove this point. (Owner) One is that most people wear their seatbelts now, another is the fact that less people smoke cigarettes and drunk driving has decreased since worse punishments were put into place for each of these. Paul Atchley Ph.D. has studied each of these and he has said that Distracted driving is particularly difficult to curb because it can be addictive like smoking and it’s something that the designers of both products purposely built in. (Owner) Success can be found though with getting the general public of Nebraska to not want to take the risk by toughening the penalties for texting and driving.

The number of pedestrian and motorcycle accident deaths increased in 2017 in the state of Nebraska. This is believed to be due to distracted driving, according to Fred Zwonechek, the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office administrator. (Withrow) Iowa has shown a remarkable improvement in highway deaths since the new law. There were 397 fatalities in 2016 and 329 in 2017. (Withrow) This is an amazing difference in terms of lives saved there since texting and driving was made a primary offense.

Raising awareness to this very important issue is crucial also. There are some organizations that are really making a difference. The National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization that was started in 1913 by the United States Congress that works to stop unneeded deaths on the roads from texting and driving. (National Safety Council Calls on Legislators to Address Distracted Driving) Another influential organization for this cause is the Road to Zero Coalition which is made up of 650 groups and the United States Department of Transportation. They work with many different groups in the government and the private sector. Their goal is end roadway fatalities by 2050. (National Safety Council Calls on Legislators to Address Distracted Driving) If these groups can continue to gain members and support from government and the general public, this can actually become a reality.

Supporting Arguments

There are states in the United States that have already made texting while driving a primary offense. This has led to safer roads for drivers and passengers there. This was started many years ago. In 2007, the state of Washington instituted the first texting and driving law. (Distracted Driving) Forty two other states followed with similar laws. (Distracted Driving) Texting while driving becoming a primary offense reduces accidents and saves lives. There is definite proof of this when Iowa’s traffic statistics are examined before and after the texting law was changed. On July 1, 2017, it was made a primary offense there. There were 575 car accidents caused by cell phones in the state in the first half of 2017. (Stewart) In the same months of 2018, there were 486 car accidents caused by mobile devices. (Stewart) This is a substantial improvement and it shows positively for the future of Iowa.

Since distracted driving accidents are often under-reported, (The Grim Reality of Texting and Driving) there are also some states like Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin that are starting to add information about texting and other cell phone use to accident documents. (National Safety Council Calls on Legislators to Address Distracted Driving)

This problem in Nebraska needs to be addressed very soon. It is not getting any better. The number of distracted driving crashes over the past decade has stayed steady at around 150 accidents per year. (Nebraska Drivers Involved in Traffic Crashes With Cell Phone Distractions) This is not something that should go unnoticed and unresolved. Crashes involving teens has remained steady since 2008 while other drivers have seen a slight increase. (Nebraska Traffic Crashes Involving Cell Phone Distractions, Comparing Teens, Other Drivers and All Drivers) This is proof that even experienced drivers are making this dangerous mistake. In total since 2008, there have been 4 fatalities and over 607 injuries due to these accidents. (see fig 1)

Figure 1

The human toll of this dangerous habit of many drivers is heartbreaking. A teenage driver who was texting while driving in Omaha in 2007 caused a crash that killed Rob Reynold’s sixteen year old daughter. (Stewart) Since then, he has made it his crusade to support strengthening laws to address the crisis of distracted driving. Another family that lost a young member to a distracted driving accident and is attempting to make a difference is the Modisette family. (Gardner) Their 5 year old daughter, Moriah, was killed when another car hit the family’s vehicle at a fast speed. The driver responsible for the crash was on his smartphone and wasn’t paying attention to traffic slowing down in front of him. (Gardner) They sued the Apple company. (Gardner) Many horrible tragedies like this can be avoided in Nebraska if texting while driving is made a primary offense and is enforced by police around the state. It has become commonplace for many drivers today to think that texting while driving is not a big deal. Nationally, 41% of drivers admitted to using their hands to send a text message when 622 of them were surveyed. (Gardner) Innocent people, including children riding in cars with their families, can be saved if the texting and driving laws are toughened.

The American military is another good example of a location that has taken strong steps to ensure drivers’ safety when it comes to texting and driving and all cell phone usage. While on all bases, there is a restriction that states that no cell phones can be used by drivers while they are behind the wheel. This includes talking as well as text messaging and any other communication on hand held devices. (Wood) This is an effective safety measure that was started in April 2005. (Wood) The military did their research on cell phone use while driving. This regulation was developed based on information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which found that cell phone use was the fastest growing and most visible distraction leading to accidents (Wood) Because of this, the bases are much safer places to drive than on Nebraska roads and highways. The Nebraska state government should have the same interest in the citizens’ safety and the legislature should pass laws that show this.

Address of the Opposition

Some Nebraska government officials worry about possible discrimination problems that could happen if the texting and driving law is made a primary offense in the state. Curt Friesen is the transportation committee chair and he believes that racial profiling could occur because he says that officers tend to profile. (Kipper) This is the reason why he put a stop to the laws that state senator, Roy Baker, tried to get passed on seat belts and tightening the texting and driving law. (Kipper) Racial profiling is also a concern for the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. (Stewart)

Racial profiling shouldn’t be an issue in Nebraska if texting and driving is made a primary offense. Racial profiling is usually used to refer to minorities being targeted. The neighboring state of Iowa where this has already made a primary offense, has a very similar population demographic to Nebraska. Since the new law has been passed in Iowa, 90% of the tickets issued for this offense were to White drivers, while only 4.5% were written to Black drivers. (Bolten)

Another issue that some opponents have with texting becoming a primary offense is that it is hard to determine if a driver is in fact texting while driving. The American Civil Liberties Union believes that Iowa’s tougher texting law won’t work and could cause worse issues for safety because it might cause some drivers to attempt to hide their texting while behind the wheel. (Stewart) Increasing the severity of the texting and driving law has also made other individuals question if it’s even needed since they say that the Nebraska Reckless Driving and Careless Driving laws already include that. (Kipper)

Law enforcement has a great deal of experience with distracted drivers. Everyone seems to think that they can multi-task their different activities, even while driving a vehicle. (The Grim Reality of Texting and Driving) Nebraska state trooper Jeremiah Foster has seen many distracted drivers and one way he can tell is that they are not staying their lanes while driving down the road. (Distracted Driving Crashes on the Rise) Iowa’s police officers and state troopers have had many chances to see what texting and driving looks like on the roads since it became a primary offense that they can pull drivers over for last year. Troopers look for people scrolling and manipulating text on their phones and then they pull up alongside those cars according to Iowa State Patrol Sargent Nathan Ludwig. (Stewart)

Conclusion

Nebraska roads can be made far safer for everyone if the state legislature makes texting while driving a primary offense. The state should follow the example of most other states in this country. There have been many very tragic accidents involving lives lost or destroyed because of drivers choosing to read or respond to a text message while driving on the road. No text message is ever important enough to take this risk.

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