Alaska's largest city proposes lowering fine for texting while driving

Anchorage lawmakers will consider a proposal next Tuesday to increase the number of offending drivers cited.

Pat Wellenbach/AP/File
Driving and texting is a dangerous mix. Most states have banned texting while driving.

Drivers who keep one thumb on their smartphones when they're behind the wheel could be in for a less harsh penalty in Anchorage, Alaska.

Lawmakers in Anchorage are looking to crack down on distracted driving by proposing a new $500 ticket for anyone caught texting on their phones while driving, according to KTUU-TV.

The new proposal will also change the offense to a traffic citation. Presently, a texting-and-driving offense in Alaska is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for a first-time offender. But it’s not easy to prove the crime in court; many cases have gone without prosecution.  

In 2015, only seven texting-and-driving offenses collected enough hard evidence and were deemed prosecutable, the station reports.

If passed, police say the new law will make giving drivers fines easier.

“You have to go to court, you have to present a jury, all those kinds of things, versus going to traffic court [with the proposed ticket],” Anchorage Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Castro told the station.

According to the US Department of Transportation, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and nearly 424,000 people were injured in 2013 alone.

Young drivers are the most at risk as automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers. An Automobile Association of America study released earlier this year found that that almost 60% of moderate-to-severe crashes involving teenagers were due to distracted driving.  

Although the danger of distracted driving is worsening as smartphone usage increases, it hasn't attracted stiff penalties in many states.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of drunk-driving fatalities per person decreased 28 percent between 2005 and 2012. During the same time period, the percentage of people observed "visibly manipulating" handheld devises while behind the wheel increased by 650 percent.

“Even though most states outlaw texting while driving, the associated fines are usually far lower than those for drinking and driving, even though several studies show they can be equally as dangerous,” The Huffington Post reported

For example, in Massachusetts, the fine for texting while driving is $100 while the fine for drunk driving can be up to $5,000.

The new law on texting and driving fines in Alaska will be discussed by the Anchorage Assembly on Oct. 27.

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