Mickey Rathbun: Amherst Police should fine people who text while driving

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Last October 69-year-old Charlie Braun was riding his bicycle in Northampton when he was fatally struck by a 23-year-old driver who ran a stop sign while using FaceTime on her phone. Braun was a much loved guitar teacher and family man, a fixture in the community.

Over the past few months the Amherst police report has listed several instances in which warnings rather than fines have been issued to people stopped for texting while driving. Just last week a driver who ran a stop sign while texting was given only a warning. Really? This is insane. She could have killed someone.

Letting people get away with a warning for such reckless and irresponsible behavior sends a loud and clear message that, unlike drunk driving, texting and driving isn’t a serious infraction.

Texting while driving is a national epidemic. More than 1.6 million car accidents per year are caused by texting while driving; more than 400 people a year are killed in such accidents. It takes an average of 5 seconds to write a text. At 55 mph, this is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field while blindfolded.

Such dangerous, potentially fatal behavior should always be punished to the full extent of the law. (Here in Massachusetts, the penalty for the first violation is a measly $100 fine. But that’s another matter.) Warnings are meaningless.

Amherst police: please take this matter seriously. Lives depend on it.

Mickey Rathbun