Most NC texting charges come from drivers over 25

January 29, 2011 11:14:59 AM PST
Teenagers aren't the only ones to blame for erratic driving tied to cell phones. Most of the motorists ticketed under North Carolina's new texting ban are actually over the age of 25, and some are over the age of 60. More than 1,200 drivers have been cited since the law went into effect in December 2009, according to court records reviewed by The Associated Press. Violators face $100 fines, plus court costs.

Brendan Byrnes, who works on the texting issue with AAA Carolinas, said young drivers with a grip on their cell phones have historically been a leading concern for safety advocates. But observers are increasingly seeing problems among adults behind the wheel who feel compelled to stay connected with work through e-mail, which also falls under North Carolina's texting law.

"This is really one of the biggest problems and the hurdles to not only fighting distracted driving but enacting legislation against distracted driving," Byrnes said. He noted that large groups of professionals -- real estate agents, sales personnel, even legislators -- are constantly on the road and want to get work done along the way.

Men account for a slight majority of North Carolina's charges. The average age of those ticketed with texting while driving is 28, according to the AP review. More than half were at least 26 years old when they were cited, including eight people over 60.

Priscilla Blake, of Rock Hill, S.C., was 67 when she was pulled over last year after dropping her niece off at university in Wilmington. She said she doesn't usually text while driving but was feeling sick and decided to try sending off a note to her niece.

Blake didn't know about the North Carolina law, but when a patrolman pulled her over she readily admitted that she was trying to send a message through her phone. She supports that law and thinks it would be useful in South Carolina.

"Texting takes concentration off driving," she said. "If you are texting, you are not looking at the road. Within a second, something could happen."

Sgt. David Sloan, who oversees traffic safety at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said the ban is difficult for police to enforce because motorists are allowed to dial phone numbers but not messages. He said that forces authorities to take a close look at how long a motorist is tapping the keys on their phone.

Sloan suspects many of the tickets come simply after motorists acknowledge they were texting. Others come after close investigation following a crash. Roughly 700 were cited for other violations at the same time, some for driving while impaired, reckless driving or driving the wrong way.

At least one person appears to have been cited for texting while driving a motorcycle.

Sloan said it would be easier for officers if lawmakers required hands-free devices or banned phones for drivers altogether. That is already a prohibition for drivers under the age of 18.

Guilford County, home of Greensboro, has recorded the most texting-while-driving violations, with 118 through the beginning of this year. Mecklenburg County, home of Charlotte, had 114. Wake County, home of Raleigh, had 107.

AAA believes the number of violators in the state is far too low. A study commissioned by the motorist group last year found that 39 percent of North Carolina drivers admit to texting while driving.

"You've got a huge number of people committing this crime every single day -- in some cases on every car trip they take," Byrnes said.

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