Gov. Beshear increases penalty for texting while driving

By David Schuh | Managing Editor

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Gov. Steve Beshear’s recent decision to take three points off drivers’ licenses if caught texting while driving has made some UK students question why the penalty isn’t stiffer.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced earlier this month that a driver will get three points for every citation they receive for texting while driving.

Before, the penalty was strictly a $25 fine for the first offense and $50 for any after that, plus the cost of court fees.

For a two-year period, the cabinet will suspend licenses for drivers 18 and older at 12 points. For drivers under 18, it is seven points.

Citations written for out- of-state residents will be sent to their home states, which will then make a decision on the penalty, cabinet spokeswoman Lisa Tolliver said.

John Werba, a senior accounting and finance major, said the penalty should be more than three points. He doesn’t think the stiffer penalty will make a drastic change in people’s habits.

But, he mentioned how influential TV commercials have been in scaring him into stopping.

“That’s what has gotten me to really stop,” Werba said. “I don’t want to now that I see that.”

Werba said he thinks it would be easy to get out of a citation. Senior accounting major Brendan Tomis agreed and said he used to text while driving occasionally.

Tomis said he has regressed to only sending messages when the car is stopped.

The cabinet reported 53,600 crashes in Kentucky in 2012 related to driver distraction, which includes cell phone use, according to a press release from Gov. Beshear’s Office.

“Part of the challenge of highway safety is keeping ahead of technology,” Beshear said in the announcement. “The cell phone is symbolic of that challenge. While it has made our lives and jobs easier in many ways, there is no question that far too often it proves to be an irresistible distraction to drivers.”

However, it can be difficult to see if drivers are using their phones in a vehicle, nonetheless prove they were texting, said Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for the Lexington Police Department.

“There aren’t a lot of citations written,” she said. “It’s a very hard law to enforce.”

The reason for that is the multi-functionality of today’s cell phone. An officer could suspect a driver is texting, when they could be checking their email or programming a GPS, Roberts said.

“(The law) speaks specifically to no texting,” Roberts said. “It’s hard to determine whether they’re texting, so most of the time we have to rely on the person being honest and forthcoming.”