Everybody tends to agree that distracted driving is a big problem and that everything should be done that can be to keep people’s eyes on the road and off their cell phones. That is why many states have enacted laws that make texting while driving illegal, or at least, a traffic offense.
The real debate is not whether it should be illegal to text when driving or not, but whether it should be a primary or secondary offense.
Primary vs. Secondary Offenses
A primary offense means that a police officer can pull over a driver for no other reason than the fact that the driver is texting (or using a cellphone). In other words, the observing of a driver texting is enough to warrant the cause needed for an officer to pull a car over.
A secondary offense means that a driver can be cited for texting, but can not be pulled over if that is the only thing the driver is doing. A driver would have to be, for example, driving recklessly, or speeding, or swerving, or have a broken taillight—anything that would be considered a traffic offense—and then, if the driver was also texting, he or she could be cited for that.
States Treat Texting Behind the Wheel Differently
In Maryland, texting while driving (which includes reading your texts) is a primary offense. Even doing so while stopped at a red light or stop sign is illegal. The law makes an exception for calling 911 and, oddly, for using your phone as a GPS. Thus, using your maps app to navigate is still allowable.
Many states do not have the same laws. In fact, only 15 make texting while driving a primary offense. The strongest laws are in Alaska, where the first incident of texting while driving can land you with a year’s imprisonment. Eight states have no restriction on texting behind the wheel, other than for new drivers and school bus drivers.
Concerns Raised Over Making Texting Primary Offenses
There are a number of constitutional concerns over making texting while driving a primary offense. Many people fear that giving officers more reason to pull over vehicles would lead to more racial profiling, or using the issue as pre-text. This is where an officer may not have a genuine belief that texting is going on, but uses it as an excuse to pull a driver over in order to find other things that the driver is doing illegally.
Others point out that normally, searching someone’s cell phone requires a warrant. Making texting a primary offense could open the door to allowing officers to legally read text messages and search a cell phone without a warrant. This brings up serious privacy concerns for many.
In some cases, a driver seeking to demonstrate their innocence to an officer may have no choice but to show the officer their phones and let them search its contents.
If you are charged with a crime or traffic infraction, find legal help quickly. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights in a criminal trial.