Texting might be similar to drunken driving except for penalties

Some studies state that texting while driving could be as dangerous as operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If a driver kills someone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the penalty is usually severe.

But what if a driver killed someone while texting?

In Michigan, the current law allows for a maximum of one year in jail.

Recently that law was put to the test. In April a 41-year-old Lapeer, Mich., man pleaded guilty to a moving violation that resulted in the death of 78-year-old Irene Paquin last November, according to published reports.

Paquin's 81-year-old husband was driving the car when Jerry Joseph broadsided it.

Phone records showed Joseph was texting seconds before the impact, contributing to him missing a stop sign, police said.

But Joseph was sentenced to just one month in jail and 12 months probation. He will have to pay more than $5,000 in fines and restitution.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants tougher penalties for texting while driving, especially if it results in fatalities or injuries. He also has been critical of some of the industry's attempts to mitigate distracted driving -- technology such as Ford Motor Co.'s MyFord Touch. Ford contends the technology will reduce driver distraction, in part, by relying on voice commands.

LaHood's battle will be a long one, I predict. Beginning with the formation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups in the 1980s, it took years for safety advocates to win tougher penalties for drunken driving. And U.S. penalties remain more lenient on many drunken driving offenders compared to other nations.

Let's hope it doesn't take more tragedies such as the one that killed Mrs. Paquin to get people to focus on driving, and only driving, when we're behind the wheel.

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