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Driven to distraction

Are we taking distracted driving seriously enough?

According to the AAA, distraction contributes to one-sixth of all fatal crashes — leading to nearly 5,000 deaths every year — and electronic devices are a major source of that distraction. Just talking on a hand-held phone while driving is dangerous enough — and illegal in this and many other states — but a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that nearly half of all high school students aged 16 or older text or email while driving, which means they’re paying even less attention to the road than the average driver.

The Oct. 4 tractor-trailer accident on I-91 in Meriden seems to be an example of distracted driving leading to a crash, and it could have been much worse. The truck, loaded with produce, drifted onto the median and tipped over. The driver, from Florida, faces five charges, including using a cell phone while driving and distracted driving.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Even so, northbound traffic was backed up for three exits during the morning rush hour, delaying plenty of people on their morning commutes. The state police, the Meriden Fire Department and personnel from the departments of Energy and Environmental Protection, Transportation, and Consumer Protection all had to send personnel to the scene.

How much did that cost state and local taxpayers? Since the charges in this case are infractions, not crimes, the only potential penalty is a fine. Will that fine come anywhere near covering the cost of having all those agencies respond?

The judicial system will have to sort this out, of course, and everyone is entitled to the presumption fo innocence — but maybe we should ask ourselves whether the punishment for causing a very expensive accident by talking or texting or emailing while driving, even if no one was injured, should be a fine so heavy that it will cover most or all of the cost of the response.

And then it might also be enough to discourage such behavior.



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