'Catch me if u can'

'Catch me if u can'

June 29th, 2009 by Maddie Burke in News

Gavin Cox is practically daring the police to ticket him for texting while driving.

"How are they going to know if I am texting rather than dialing when I am going 70 down the highway?" asked the 22-year-old from Chattanooga.

His feelings are not unique. Many avid texters say they will continue their messaging behind the wheel, regardless of a new state law that prohibits it.

"I will continue texting," Mr. Cox said. "The law is unenforceable, so no one will obey it."

The law, which goes into effect Wednesday, outlaws the sending or reading of text messages while driving. The law will only penalize drivers who text while the vehicle is in motion and will not penalize drivers who text at stoplights.

The offense will be considered a nonmoving-traffic violation with a $50 fine, and no points will be added to a person's driving record. Workers such as campus police, emergency medical technicians and state officers are exempt while working.

Tennessee is one of 14 states that ban texting while driving, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association. Public safety advocates say more states will pass similar legislation.

Police officials and older generations see merit in the law and say it's a smart way to keep the roads safer.

"I think it will make a major change," said Lt. Charles Lowery Jr., the Hamilton County traffic and school patrol supervisor. "Texting leads to many more crashes and injuries. When you are driving 4,000 to 8,000 thousand pounds of plastic and metal that could kill someone, your attention should not be divided."

Most opponents of the Tennessee law argue that texting already is covered under the state's distracted driving law and that authorities will not be able to enforce the law adequately, The Associated Press reported.

"It won't put fear into teens or adults who text because they do not think they will get caught," Mr. Cox said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. And, as of May, Tennessee reported the highest national percentage of drivers who admit to texting while driving (42 percent), according to a survey released by mobile application vendor Vlingo.

Across the state line, Georgia lawmakers attempted to pass similar laws but were unsuccessful, according to the Georgia General Assembly's Web site.

A proposal to create additional penalties for drivers distracted by cell phones at the time of an accident did not pass the Georgia House. A measure to prohibit drivers 18 and younger from using cell phones passed the House but will not be heard by the Senate until next year.

No-texting laws are a slippery slope because they could lead to further regulations, such as restrictions on eating or changing radio stations, said Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

Officers, however, remain optimistic about their ability to enforce the new law.

"If they are texting, they aren't seeing us," Lt. Lowery said. "When people text, they normally hold the phone up. If I see a person hitting numerous keys numerous times, it will indicate to me that they are not dialing but texting."

Sgt. Al Tallant, who oversees the Chattanooga Police Department traffic division, said his officers will be looking for indication of careless driving.

"We will look at how people are driving," he said. "You can normally tell when people are distracted."

Sgt. Tallant believes that while the police may not be able to catch all offenders, the new law will lead to a reduction in texting behind the wheel.

"A certain percentage will stop because they know it is against the law," he said.

But even those who understand the dangers and see merit in the new law admit that old habits will be hard to break.

"I probably won't stop," said Cynetria Watkins, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "I guess it's a good law, and I might do it a little less, but I probably won't stop."

Some diehard texters, however, are undeterred.

"There are more dangerous things in the car than texting," said Chrysta Jorgenson, 28, of Hixson. "People playing with the radio, using navigation systems, zoning out or driving tired are just as bad."

It is unclear whether an officer will be able to confiscate or examine a phone to check its history to determine if a text message has been sent.

However, refusal to provide a phone to police will not look good in front of a judge, Lt. Lowery said, comparing the situation to people who refuse Breathalyzer tests during DUI stops.