DC considering raising fines for distracted driving

- Would you stop texting and driving if you knew it would cost you more if you were caught? That is what D.C. leaders are trying to determine as some say that the current penalties are a slap on the wrist.

If you are caught using your phone behind the wheel in the District, it will cost you $100. Now, proposed legislation is seeking to change that.

“When I'm on the road on my bike, I do see people texting all the time,” said Jesse Rauch.

He rides his bike every day and often worries the person in the car behind him might be distracted on the phone.

“If increasing fines will act as an increased deterrent, then I think it should definitely happen,” said Rauch.

As a part of a larger biking and pedestrian safety package on Tuesday, leaders wanted to know if a fine hike would actually help. Some even made the case that hands-free devices in the car are still too distracting.

“Though the District of Columbia would be breaking new territory here as well, in the effort to combat distracted driving and create safe streets, the [D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council] thinks that based on the current state of science, it is time to consider banning all phone use by drivers,” said David Cranor, acting chair of the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council.

In Virginia, the fine is $150. While in Maryland, it is usually just $83 for the first offense. But will simply raising the fine really change bad habits?

“I agree with you that we don't always know that and it has a disproportionate impact on people who have less ability to pay,” said D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

AAA said it is against distracted driving, but outlawing hands-free devices is going too far.

One complaint has been that police officers are not writing enough tickets for this violation.

AAA said back in 2010, more than 14,000 tickets were handed out in D.C. for this offense. However, last year, only 5,500 tickets were given.

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