High costs of distracted driving

‘Tis the season of joy, the season of family, the season of remembrance.

For two local families, what they will remember is a time of sadness for it was just about this time last year that John Bachman, of Amherst, and Katie Hamilton, of Brookline, a mother of three young girls, were killed by distracted drivers. The driver in Bachman’s case, Travis Hobbs, was later acquitted of negligent homicide and conduct after an accident.

Starting in July, there will be consequences for distracted driving, something that has been too long in coming.

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law on July 25. It makes hand-held cellphone use punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses within a 24-month period.

The ban will apply while drivers are stopped temporarily, such as at red lights, but not if they have pulled off a roadway.

Of course the question is, will this law make us safer? Well, that depends.

No law makes us safer unless people obey it, but at least with a law in place, police officers will be able to issue tickets which, we hope, will have the effect of convincing the person receiving the ticket to not do it again.

The key is, using a hand-held device while driving definitely makes us less safe. According to New Hampshire Public Radio:

“Using federal data on driver cellphone use, for example, the National Safety Council estimates that, in 2011, 1.2 million crashes – almost 23 percent of the total – involved drivers talking on a cellphone. Another 100,000 crashes involved drivers who were sending or reading text messages.”

Of course there is no guarantee that the law would have saved the lives of John Bachman and Katie Hamilton, but there will be at least a better chance of saving lives in the future. Think about it this way:

You get pulled over for talking on your hand-held cellphone and get fined $100. Now it would help if you knew that a second offense will cost you more than twice as much. Perhaps the police officer could mention that.

All right, if you know that, are you likely to again drive and chat? Only if you like giving money to the state.

Or perhaps you’re one of those folks who just don’t believe they’ll be caught. There are such unfortunates, and all we can say is we hope you’re wrong. We want you to get caught. We hope, if you get caught once and continue doing it, that you get caught again. And again.

It’s dangerous to drive and chat. We all really know that, but we do it anyway because, well, accidents really only happen to other people, right? Not us.

But with this law, getting caught will at least cost us something.

Maybe it will save a life or two.