Gov. Markell signs legislation to eliminate distracted driving

Gov. Jack Markell

Gov. Jack Markell

Delaware Governor Jack Markell hitched a ride with Batman in his Batmobile on Wednesday, before signing legislation aimed at getting drivers to pay more attention to the road, not their phones.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, doubles the fines for distracted driving in Delaware. An actor in a Batman suit was on hand for the bill signing in an effort to reach younger drivers.

“Any increase passed by the General Assembly I would have signed,” Markell said. “I do believe you’re going to save people’s lives, I really do.”

House Bill 302 increases a first offense from $50 to $100 and subsequent penalties up to anywhere between $200 and $300. The bill also increases the portion of the assessed fine supporting the Volunteer Ambulance Company Fund.

“This bill is really important because there’s an epidemic of people driving and texting and having cell phones active in the car, and it’s causing accidents and deaths, so we need every citizen to take a look at this and think about, are they risking their lives and others,” Hudson said.

“And we would like parents to talk to their kids about it and make a serious change. That’s why we brought Batman today, we need to have the kids pay attention to it, so we brought a comic book person. But it is a serious issue.”

Teens from several high schools attended the event in support of the legislation. Harold Lewis, a senior from William Penn High School, said it’s important to educate young people about the dangers of texting and driving. 

“I think they believe they’re invincible because they’re younger and they don’t think anything can stop them,” he said. “The reality is any little distraction can take your life.”

Since 2014, Delaware State Police have issued an average of more than 12,000 citations a year to drivers using cell phones and other devices. The Delaware Office of Highway Safety also reported that there were 150 crashes due to cell phone distractions last year. Between January and May of this year, there were 68 crashes.

“We’re hoping the fines associated with this bill would make everyone more aware, but also to be careful how they’re driving,” said Lisa Flowers of the Office of Highway Safety. “Put the phone in a glove compartment or on the seat or backseat and focus on driving.”

AAA reported unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text.

“Study, after study, after study tells us our brains can’t multi-task very well. We may try to do it, but we really can’t do it behind the wheel,” said Cathy Rossi, vice president of public and government affairs for AAA. “Therefore our focus, our awareness, our attention needs to be on operating the machine that is a car.”

The report also stated 87 percent of drivers admitted to risky behaviors at the wheel; two in three drivers admitted talking on a cell phone while driving; two in five said they have read a text or email while driving; and one in three said they have typed or sent a text or email.

“Most of us don’t realize the average family car weighs about 4,000 pounds and it’s a heavy piece of machinery, we take a lot of that for granted when we drive every day,” Rossi said. “Distracted driving puts you as the driver at risk, your passengers at risk and everyone on the road at risk. When we put down the phone we not only help ourselves, but we protect everyone else on the road.”

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