Richard Rish, a resident of Michigan, was recently sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison for causing a man’s death while driving under the influence of alcohol. Travis Jones, an Indiana resident, is facing far less time in prison (serving a maximum of one year) after causing a man’s death during a distracted driving accident. Should a drunk driver be required to serve more time in prison than a distracted driver when both actions result in the same harmful behavior?
Distracted driving resulted in approximately 2,600 deaths in 2002. The number of distracted driving accidents increased by 22% in 2011 and resulted in 3,331 fatalities. Texting while driving is a leading cause of distracted driving. However, the NHTSA reports that texting while driving is currently responsible for approximately 1.6 million accidents every year – about 25% of all driving accidents.
In the eyes of the law, drunk driving and distracted driving criminal offenses differ. Jones was eating while driving down the road when the accident occurred. Technically, his actions did not amount to the degree of negligence or recklessness that is required to pursue criminal culpability. In contrast, a person who becomes intoxicated and gets behind the wheel and injures or causes a fatality is considered to have engaged in more serious behavior under the law. Though opinions may differ regarding drunk driving vs. distracted driving, should criminal culpability for distracted driving be harsher?
Michigan Distracted Driving Laws
As of July 1, 2010, Michigan lawmakers prohibited texting while driving. For a first offense, motorists are fined $100. A subsequent offense is $200. In addition to texting while driving, distracted driving also includes eating and drinking, grooming, and watching a video.
If a driver causes a fatality while driving distracted, he/she can face up to one year in prison (moving violation charge), his/her license will be suspended and he/she will be required to pay fines. The victim’s family can also file a pain and suffering or wrongful death lawsuit against the driver.
If you or a loved one has been charged with drunk driving or a moving violation related to distracted driving, contact my law office for a consultation. Depending on the nature of the accident and violation, we can work to try to keep you or your loved one from serving time in jail or prison. In addition, I can help you get the help you need to address your alcohol abuse or addiction.