If you need another reason to put the phone down and pay attention behind the wheel, FOX Business is reporting that texting drivers could soon by paying more for car insurance.
Our Tuscaloosa personal injury lawyers have blogged about the risks associated with texting while driving. Studies show drivers using a hand-held cell phone are four times more likely to be involved in an accident. While those who are text messaging are at 23 times greater risk for a crash, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In Alabama, drivers are prohibited from texting while at the wheel. The law makes it a primary offense, which means a motorist can be stopped and ticketed. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports 39 states now ban texting and driving. Alabama also prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone while driving.
However, the challenge for law enforcement is determining whether a driver is texting (illegal) or dialing (legal). Or whether a driver is under the age of 18 and subject to the cell phone ban. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently sponsored a $550,000 pilot enforcement program in Connecticut and Massachusetts to field-test various enforcement efforts.
“While it is relatively easier for law enforcement to determine illegal handheld cell phone use by observing the position of the phone at the driver’s ear, the dangerous practice of texting while driving is often not as obvious,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
The insurance industry is paying close attention. While not exactly at the front of the line when it comes to paying claims, the industry is more than happy to add to the list of violations for which you will pay more for your car insurance.
The federal government estimates more than 3,000 motorists are killed each year in an accident with a distracted driver. However, the real number is likely much higher because of problems in reporting driver distraction as an accident cause among the various state and local police departments. The same challenges make it difficult to determine texting’s impact on automobile insurance claims.
However, insurance companies already use moving violations as reason to see a driver as an increased risk, which typically results in a premium increase. A drunk driving conviction, for example, can double or even triple the amount you pay for automobile insurance. Alabama uses a driver’s license point system for moving violations. More than 12 points in a two-year period will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license.
Drunk driving or reckless driving is 6 points. Speeding more than 26 mph over the limit is 5 points. A typical moving violation is 2 points. Any of these violations could be used to justify charging you more for car insurance.
Insurers continue to push for driver’s license suspensions and other tough penalties for texting drivers. Utah’s 2009 law is among the toughest in the nation and provides for up to 15 years in prison for a texting driver who causes a serious or fatal crash.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to be concerned about whether such laws are helping. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied new laws in 4 states — and found accidents actually increased in three of them. Opinions vary about the cause, although some think drivers are responding to the laws by keeping their phones further out of sight beneath the dash, which could be keeping their eyes off the road for a longer period of time and increasing their risks of being involved in a serious or fatal collision as a result.
Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Thomas: Car Accidents on the Job in Alabama, Published by Cross & Smith, LLC, Sept. 5, 2012.
U Text and Drive? Expect Higher Car Insurance, By Don Hanzlik, FOX Business, Oct. 17, 2012.