Texting while driving increases the likelihood of a car accident or crash. The Alaska legislature passed a law in 2008 that it thought made texting and driving a crime, but the ambiguous language has raised questions from judges across the state.
A bill has been introduced to clarify the language and make it clear that texting while driving is prohibited in Alaska.
The problem with the law is how it described texting. It currently states:
“A person commits the crime of driving with a screen device operating if the person is driving a motor vehicle, a the vehicle has a television, video monitor, portable computer, or any other similar means capable of providing a visual display that is in full view of a driver in a normal driving position while the vehicle is in motion, and the monitor or visual display is operating while the person is driving.”
Does That Mean Texting?
It didn’t use the term “texting” and it seem to imply that something like unlocking a cell phone or using a GPS function on a smart phone could be read as a violation of the statute and a crime.
Late last year, Magistrate Jennifer Wells in Kenai, issued a dismissal in a texting-while-driving case. She stated, “If the Alaska legislature wanted to prohibit texting, then it should have, and could have, clearly said so.”
The revised HB 255 is designed to fix this issue, by adding language that states, “…while texting, while communicating on a computer, or while a screen device is operating…” to make clear texting, email or similar activity is prohibited.
The legislature also added “or…the person is reading or typing a text message or other nonvoice message or communication on a cellular telephone, personal data assistant, computer or any other similar means…”
Staying Ahead of the Curve
One problem in attempting to regulate this type of issues is the pace of technological change. Smartphones did not exist ten years ago, and texting is similarly recent. The 2008 language attempted to be broad and all encompassing, but turned out to be too vague.
In order to regulate a behavior, the statute must describe an activity well enough that people understand what the law is prohibiting.
Driver Distraction and Highway Deaths
The temptation to use smartphones to surf the internet and send text messages in a vehicle is strong and growing stronger. As the urge to glance at the phone becomes irresistible, consider the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration reported in “2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured.”