An awful lot of terrible things can happen in just 5 seconds.
Five seconds. That’s the minimal amount of time your attention is taken away from the road if you are texting while driving. It’s the blink of an eye but in that short time, the life of 23 year-old John French of Stevens Point changed forever. According to the accident report, French was driving his SUV on Dec. 6, 2010, near Wisconsin Rapids when he failed to stop at a stop sign and collided with another SUV driven by Robert Walker.
Walker was thrown from his vehicle and died at the scene. According to the criminal complaint, French admitted that he was texting at the time of the crash. He now faces up to 25 years in prison for second-degree reckless homicide.
Five seconds. If you are traveling 55 miles per hour, this equals driving the length of a football field without looking at the road. Last year, 23 percent of accidents across the country involved the use of cell phones, a whopping 1.3 million crashes. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the texting temptation and 13 percent of drivers aged 18-20 involved in car wrecks admitted to texting or talking on their mobile devices at the time of the crash.
This is why the Wisconsin State Patrol has teamed up with AAA and AT&T to hold a series of events at high schools across the state to educate youngsters about the dangers of texting while driving. In our state, the law prohibits all drivers from texting or emailing while operating a motor vehicle. It’s a primary offense which means police can stop drivers solely for texting or emailing and the fines are up to $400.
Mobile devices are tremendous distraction when you’re behind the wheel. In fact, this activity puts you at a 23 times higher risk for getting into an accident. While not paying attention to the roadway, you can rear-end the car in front of you, cross the center line into oncoming traffic or fail to see a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Because texting while driving is a civil ordinance, not a criminal matter, there is a monetary forfeiture only. If you are caught, you’ll also be assessed four points on your driving record.
The problem law enforcement has is that it can be difficult to prove without the driver actually admitting that he or she was texting when the accident occurred. The vehicle must be in motion and law enforcement has to be able to prove that you were actually texting while you were driving. As a practical matter, it’s too costly and time consuming to get all the documentation needed to prove it.
However, if a witness comes forward and says they noticed the driver manipulating his phone prior to a an accident, the police will take the driver’s phone and execute whatever legal hurdles necessary including getting a search warrant to check the phone’s content to verify if the time of a text coincides with the time of the accident. They may also subpoena phone records to see if texting could have been a factor in the crash.
If police can make this connection, or if the driver simply admits to texting and causing the accident, the charges can range from negligent operation of a motor vehicle causing great bodily harm or death to reckless operation of a motor vehicle.
It’s very easy to be tempted when you hear that little “ding” on the phone when someone’s sent you a message. It’s natural to want to check the message and respond.
Just don’t do it. When driving, turn off the volume on your phone. You can’t afford the few seconds of distraction that will take your eyes off the road. Don’t text and don’t read texts. If you think a very important message demands your attention, pull off the road and come to a complete stop before reading the text or placing a call.
Dialing the phone, texting, emailing – all of these actions are dangerous distractions that can lead to a serious accident, death and, should you survive, prison time. No text, email or phone message could possibly be worth the risk. That’s a message that both adults and younger people need to take seriously.
About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie. He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.
Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.