Texting and driving - and the trend of states cracking down on it - are nothing new. The National Safety Council places the number of texting-related crashes at 1.6 million annually. This is on par with the 1.5 million annual DUI arrests in the United States. Research suggests alcohol-impaired crashes impose a cost of $132 billion every year. Despite their similarly hazardous nature, where do the parallels between drunken driving and distracted driving begin and end? The state of Washington recently drew media attention when they began drafting legislation that could charge state residents with ‘driving under the influence of electronics.' After a 32% increase in distracted driving deaths between 2014 and 2015, the EDUI bill was born. Now the legislation has passed and takes effect in Washington next week. Governor Jay Inslee implored the public in a speech on the steps of the Capitol, “Put the cell phones down, preserve life,” continuing “When you are driving with a cell phone, you are a more dangerous driver than if you are driving drunk with a .08 blood alcohol level.”
The provisions for handling EDUIs will differ greatly from alcohol-impairment offenses. Troopers are to only give out warnings "for the first few months before tickets get written,” according to Fox News. A first citation will cost the driver $136. A second citation in the same 5 year period will raise the fine to $236. Using any hand held device while driving will go on a driving record, visible to insurance providers with the potential to raise rates. Fascinatingly, the sanctions in the new law are not limited to EDUI offenses. Drivers could now be ticketed with a $99 fine for other distractions, such as eating, reading or grooming. If an action interferes with safe driving, it could be called into question and potentially be ticketed.
Is it ethical to compare a distracted driver to an inebriated driver? Is there an equal failing on each of their parts? Although the punishments leveled against the drunk driver and the distracted driver remain exceptionally different under the new law, distracted driving is still styled as a ‘form' of DUI. This implies one may be under the influence of electronics in the same fashion that they may be under the influence of alcohol, which physically and cognitively affects drivers. The word DUI, especially when present on one's record, carries a considerable stigma. The threat of said stigma is perhaps meant to act as a deterrent against texting and driving, although some suggest that public ignorance of legal penalties prevent them from having any measurable deterrent effect. Usually, it is only when people are charged do they become aware of the severity of consequences associated with their offenses. Washington is the first state to enact an EDUI law and it remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.