Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sharon Montgomery Reports On DWT

Sharon Montgomery writes:

No news at the statehouse: HB 99 is still below the line on the House calendar, in the list of bills recommended by their committees but not scheduled for a vote. SB 35 & SB154 have not been scheduled for hearings.

Today is the beginning of the National Safety Council's Safety Month. The theme for the week of June 26 is "On the Road, Off the Phone." This would be a good time for us to write letters to the editor of our papers and address our city councils alerting the public to this safety week and the reason for it, and maybe urging our local governments to conduct or step up education and enforcement actions, like the recently-concluded "Click it or Ticket" campaign.

Even the cities without specific texting laws are likely to have some sort of generic "inattention" law that could be made more effective with more education and enforcement. You can get some good talking points for the need for this focus at and of course can also use the reasons you personally are involved in this advocacy.

Council members and law enforcement personnel on this list: I hope we can count on you to try to make something happen in your city. Thanks.

I said in my last message I would share some other news when I got one other piece of information about it. I have that information now. Two court cases on DWT were pending at the time in which the prosecutor was trying to go beyond vehicular manslaughter to vehicular homicide. In one of them, news reports said the defense lawyer was apparently trying to discount the texting issue by saying the offender hadn't been texting at the actual moment of the crash. I sent that prosecutor the summaries of two studies showing that the distraction lasts after the "phone call" has ended. The mother of the victim in the other case asked me to send that research to their prosecutor, which I did.

That other case has now concluded and sadly--as I understand it--the prosecutor did not feel the judge would be influenced by that research so did not use it. To my knowledge, the first case I referred to above has not yet gone to trial.

I am deeply disturbed that we have missed a chance to make this point within the legal system. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and drivers desperately need to know of this residual distraction. If we are limited to appropriate charges & penalties for only those crashes where the offender was actually in the act of texting (e-mailing, phoning, etc.) at the moment of impact, far too many offenders will not be held sufficiently accountable for the harm they cause, *and* the deterring benefit of stiff penalties will be lost.

To end on a good note: I attended a day-long seminar for records managers recently. The topic was records management implications of electronic communications. One of the two speakers, who is a nationally-recognized expert and leader in this subject, said this subject cannot be separated from the use of mobile communication devices. One of her "best practices" topics is effective employer policies for acceptable employee use of e-communication tools. She devoted a fair amount of time to the dangers of using MCDs while driving and the need not only for employer policies against it but laws against it! She is in much demand as a speaker nation-wide and also is often hired as an expert witness in lawsuits involving employer liability. So, the word is getting spread in this way, also. And, we have another area of expertise to add to our list when we tell legislators of all the supporters of laws against this behavior. Needless to say, I spoke to her at the break, briefly gave her my background, and thanked her profusely.

Sharon Montgomery.


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