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MOCK: Distracted driving bill prohibits texting - and more

State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks

BISMARCK — Kelsie Myers grew up in Crosby, N.D. She loved to snowmobile, jet ski, sing, dance and spend time with her friends. She was a sweet kid with a promising future.

Tragedy struck her family and friends when, at age 19, Kelsie's car was hit by a freight train west of Minot, and she was killed.

Kelsie was simply driving home from work — a route she drove every day. The railroad crossing did not have a traffic gate and, according to railroad personnel, Kelsie was distracted and did not see the train in time.

North Dakota's texting-while-driving ban was enacted in 2011, three years after Kelsie's death. But, unfortunately, despite our best efforts in 2011, the distraction that resulted in Kelsie's death would not have been illegal under this law.

The distraction that resulted in Kelsie's death was caused by her looking for CDs in her center counsel. Not texting.

Nearly every state joins North Dakota in banning texting while driving. As a result, distracted-related injuries and deaths have improved, but far too many Americans still lose their lives in preventable vehicle accidents. The statistics speak for themselves:

In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in car crashes; 10 percent of all fatalities were distraction-related. Some 2.3 million people were injured in a crash; 18 percent of all injuries were distraction-related.

There is no dispute that distracted driving is more than dangerous. It's deadly.

But the statistics also show that texting only accounts for a small portion — less than 15 percent — of our distraction-related injuries and fatalities. The majority of distraction-related crashes — crashes that claim the lives of people like Kelsie Myers — are caused by distractions other than texting-while-driving.

Unfortunately, North Dakota's existing law does not discourage distracted driving. Instead, we ban only the act of texting or transmitting data, while overlooking many other potentially deadly distractions.

What does this mean? If you're driving, it is illegal to send a text, send an email or browse Facebook or the Internet. But all off-line uses of your phone — including reading, typing and using off-line apps — is not prohibited.

This means it's legal to type a text message while driving, but illegal to send it.

House Bill 1430 modernizes North Dakota's law to reflect this oversight and discourage the act of distracted driving, rather than simply sending a text. Traffic injuries and fatalities do not discriminate based on the type of distraction. Neither should our traffic laws.

State Rep. Mock, D-Grand Forks, is minority leader of the North Dakota House.