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The most effective way to stop drivers from texting could be the threat of criminal charges and prison time.

Right now, texting while driving is illegal in 46 states. (Text messages are not the sole culprit—there are dozens of possible distractions on your smartphone—but only 14 states ban all hand-held devices for drivers.)

You don’t need statistics to know that drivers are constantly breaking this law. Just stand at an intersection on any busy street, and count the number of drivers who are looking down.

If the fear of a citation isn’t enough,

and fear of a crash isn’t enough,

what will stop this dangerous behavior?


Texting drivers get charged with manslaughter

A driver does not have to intend to kill anyone in order to be guilty of vehicular manslaughter.

In most jurisdictions, the prosecution must prove that the driver operated a motor vehicle in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, and, that their conduct caused a fatality.

Here are a couple of examples.

An Ohio woman is facing serious jail time after striking a group of teenagers with her Ford Escort.

A 14-year-old girl was pronounced dead at the crash scene. Another girl died later at the hospital. A 15-year-old boy was seriously injured.

The investigation revealed she was texting while driving.

Charges filed against the driver include:

  • Involuntary manslaughter;
  • Vehicular homicide;
  • Vehicular assault; and
  • Driving while texting.


On a Texas highway in March, a 20-year-old man plowed his truck into a small church bus.

Thirteen innocent people were killed.

After admitting that he was texting while driving, the man was charged with 13 counts of manslaughter. That’s a second-degree felony charge, and each count can bring up to 20 years each in prison, according to the local District Attorney.

These are preventable car crashes, not “accidents.”*

Last year, a woman in Pennsylvania was texting when she ran a red light, struck another car, and fatally injured a pedestrian. She has been charged with homicide by vehicle and related offenses.

In San Diego, a driver lost control of her car, and hit 2 little girls on the sidewalk. The District Attorney filed charges, and alleged the driver was texting. The jury found the defendant guilty of distracted driving and vehicular manslaughter.

A mom responding to a text from her kid rear-ended a Honda, causing a pile-up on a Minnesota highway. A young woman was killed; her fiancee sustained a traumatic brain injury. That driver was charged with criminal vehicular homicide, and criminal vehicular operation that resulted in great bodily harm.

Vehicular homicide in Washington State

Washington’s law (RCW 46.61.520, Section 1 below) seems to be primarily applied to crashes caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs (emphasis added). 

However, the language could seemingly be applied to a fatal crash caused by a distracted driver.

(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:

(a) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or
(b) In a reckless manner; or
(c) With disregard for the safety of others.

As of July 23, 2017, Washington state has a more strict, thorough distracted driving law.

My hope is that harsher penalties and fines, along with increased awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, will make real and positive change.

My fear is that people won’t change their behavior until they see other drivers prosecuted and jailed for the senseless, tragic deaths they caused.

Coluccio Law doesn’t use the word “accident” to describe a predictable, preventable collision. We encourage you to say “crash”, not “accident.”

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for G Love
    G Love

    Unfortunately, texting and driving is not a consciously engaged behavior. There are dozens of studies that demonstrate this reality. It is habitual. Phone and app developers know this and design smartphones and apps to capture and keep a user's attention, and to be used compulsively. Triston Harris, a former Google developer calls it a "race to the bottom of the brain stem." 60 minutes did a great piece on how developers "bake" compulsion into phones and apps. You should watch it - the piece is called "Brain Hacking." Habitual/compulsive use of smartphones is perfectly legal 85% of the time. To be diplomatic here - to expect habitual/compulsive use to end upon entering the driver's compartment of a vehicle is naive - and disregards the only real solution to end distracted driving. That real solution is forcing the people who put these devices on the market (and make billions doing so) to own this issue. NHTSA with its Phase 2 guidelines is a start.

    Forcing companies to implement their own technology to lock-out use while driving at highway speeds is the only real solution. Crowding already over-crowded jails with texting drivers sounds great on a bumper sticker, but it's not a real solution.

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