Last night, on my way driving home from the gym, I was incredibly tempted to pick up my cellphone and text. I had just gotten a couple of messages, and I was sitting stopped at a traffic light – what’s the harm, right? Well, just as I was about to grab my phone, I noticed a police car roll up to my side. It was a close call!
But what would have happened had the policeman seen my fiddling with my iPhone? As it turns out, texting-while-driving penalities vary widely from state to state. According to a new state-by-state analysis by Mother Jones, I would have gotten off easy – the offense carries a $20 base fine in California. But had I been driving in Alaska, I could have been facing not only a $10,000 ticket, but a year in prison as well.
It may seem somewhat ridiculous that a simple text could carry such a stiff fine. But remember, more teenagers will die this year from texting behind the wheel than from drunk driving. And a recent research study shows that even hands-free texting is more dangerous than drunk driving.
Most states’ penalties fall somewhere between California’s lax $20 charge and Alaska’s brutal $10,000 fine – the median national penalty is $100. But it’s important to remember that we’re only talking about base fines. Many states, counties and towns tack on extra fees and penalties to traffic offenses. Text while driving in Los Angeles, for instance, surcharges drive that smallest-in-the-nation fine all the way up to $159. You might also see your car insurance rates rise, as well.
Despites these ‘minor’ inaccuracies, the Mother Jones analysis should be required reading to anyone with a set of car keys and a mobile phone. No text message is worth getting into an accident over. And certainly, no text message is worth going to jail over, either.