Dr. Traffic

Drivers, no texting in traffic is allowed

Using a cellphone or other electronic device while driving can be dangerous if the driver becomes distracted.
Using a cellphone or other electronic device while driving can be dangerous if the driver becomes distracted. The Wichita Eagle

Seems like we’re always looking for a loophole. If the wording is a little fuzzy when new rules come down from federal and state chambers, we’re all over that.

You know this to be true if you’ve ever sent a text message or read one while sitting at a red light. Technically are you really driving at that point?

That’s the question a few readers have asked.

“Texting while driving is against the law in NC,” one reader wrote. “What about people who text while stopped at a traffic signal and fail to recognize when a traffic signal gives them a green indication? Are they violating the law?”

Actually, yes.

You can’t type a text message or read a text or email while driving on a public street or highway or other public area, according to North Carolina traffic laws. Voice-activated systems are fine, but bus drivers and drivers younger than age 18 are restricted from using a cellphone at all while operating a vehicle.

And if your car is in drive, you’re driving.

To avoid fines of $25 or $100 or more, move out of the travel lanes before reading or typing a text or email, suggests Kevin Lacy, NCDOT traffic engineer.

Using a cellphone or other electronic devices while operating a vehicle is dangerous because it distracts a driver, putting him, passengers and bystanders at risk, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Then there’s the fact that so many people are doing it.

An estimated 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or other electronic devices while driving “at any given daylight moment across America,” according to the administration reports.

The consequences are real.

More than 3,100 people nationally were killed in wrecks involving distracted drivers in 2013, according to distraction.gov, a site by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Some 424,000 people were injured in these types of incidents in 2013.

In Charlotte, inattention and distraction accounted for more than 23 percent of crashes in 2014, said Angela Berry, traffic safety official with Charlotte Department of Transportation.

This is a problem we can control, as safety experts remind us.

Maybe you’ve seen AAA Carolinas’ Life Has No Redial video, part of a campaign against distracted driving. Scores of other videos on YouTube tell graphic stories of how lives are changed or lost because of our need to stay connected no matter what we’re doing.

So here are a few lines for your next text message or email. Send it along with a request that drivers pull over and stop the car before reading it:

“Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting,” according to distraction.gov. “When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field.”

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms