In 2010, national traffic fatalities fell to 32,788 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While this marks a significant drop in human losses, our nation's roadways are still risky, and there are growing concerns about dangerous behaviours such as distracted driving that can lead to motor vehicle accidents. The issue is more than about reaction times and spills over into other areas, such as the safe transport of children. One startling case involves a Connecticut woman named Evelyn Guzman.
In March 2011, Guzman, a 20-year veteran of the First Student Bus Company, was charged with risk of injury to a minor, as well as second-degree reckless endangerment. Guzman, who drives a special education bus and serves children who attend Frenchtown Elementary School, was arrested after police received video footage of her sending and receiving text messages while operating her school bus. Investigation revealed that Guzman had sent or read over 1,000 messages during one month for which Tunstall School District has surveillance tapes.
Across the nation, 34 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning text messaging while driving, per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Born out of Senate Bill 427, Connecticut's anti-texting law came into effect in October 2010. Under its current law, school bus drivers are barred from texting and cell phone use while operating their vehicles and while carrying passengers. Special situations-such as emergencies-are an exception to this law. The offense comes with a fine of not more than $100, unless other violations exist.
Before the Bridgeport Superior Court in April 2011, Guzman was granted accelerated rehabilitation, which is a special program for non-violent first offenders. In this program, the veteran driver receives two years of probation and is not considered to have pled guilty to the charges of reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor; however, if she commits another offense during the probationary period, she can be found guilty of these serious offenses. If Guzman does not get into trouble throughout the probationary period, her charges will be dismissed. Conditions of Guzman's probation include 200 hours of community service, a $500 contribution to a charity for children with autism and a two-year suspension of her driver's license.
In the eyes of many Americans, penalties sometimes don't fit the crime. Many are outraged by Guzman's light sentence; however, her penalties may force others like her to realize that texting while driving is a serious crime.