Kentucky drivers will soon be assessed three "penalty points" against their licenses each time they're convicted of texting while driving.
The new penalty will be enacted through administrative regulations ordered by Gov. Steve Beshear, who announced the change in Louisville on Wednesday morning.
Drivers rack up points against their licenses upon a conviction on various highway law violations—three points for speeding 11 to 15 miles per hour on a limited access highway, for example. (Here's a full list.)
Drivers 18 and older can have their licenses suspended if they accumulate 12 points or more in a two-year span. For drivers younger than 18, the limit is seven points.
So, texting while driving will soon be worth three points.
“We want to make sure that Kentuckians refrain from this dangerous activity and today we’re going to be letting drivers know that we’re serious about this," Beshear said, speaking to the Kentucky Life Savers Conference, which gathers state transportation leaders and public safety.
About 35,600 traffic accidents in 2012 were attributed to distracted driving, which includes texting, Beshear said.
Legislation that would have added texting while driving to the licensing point system was approved this year in the state House's transportation committee, but wasn't passed.
The administration later found a way to implement the changes without legislators' approval.
“This is such a dangerous situation that we don’t to wait another half year to do any legislation on this," Beshear told reporters. "We found that we could do it by administrative regulation and so that’s exactly what we’re going to do and get this in effect as quickly as we can so we can hopefully save some lives out here on our highways.”
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 that made texting while driving a traffic offense, but Beshear said "apparently that has not been enough of a deterrent."
Hence the new regulations, which will need to go through a legislative review process.
Beshear cited studies that show spending a text messages takes drivers' eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 70 miles per hours, the drivers' car travels the length of a one and a half football fields.
Beshear acknowledged that the texting while driving prohibition currently in place is difficult to enforce.
“It’s very difficult to enforce, as we all know, because somebody might just be talking on their cell phone or they might be texting and it’s pretty difficult to prove what they were doing at the time," Beshear told reporters.
"But we need to draw as much attention to this issue as we can.”
Shawn Coltharp, of Paducah, followed Beshear's announcement. Coltharp's daughter Hillary was seriously injured in a 2007 wreck on Interstate 24 near Paducah. Hillary lost control of her vehicle while sending a text message as she drove to meet her family for dinner on Labor Day weekend.
The vehicle smashed into the median and flipped into the opposite lane, landing in the emergency lane.
“There is nothing positive that will happen on the other end of a distracted driving text message," Shawn Coltharp said.
To hammer home his point, it would seem, Beshear drove a driving simulator and tried to text while driving.
Here's a video:
(He drove better than you'd think, though that's not a good thing.)
(Top image via Shutterstock)