Rules of the Road

Road Rules: Can I speed to get away from a texting driver?

Borhan Muthana, 16, takes the Allstate Safe Driving Challenge in Detroit, Mich., on Aug. 27, 2012, at Comerica Park. Muthana attempts to text while driving on a closed course. Recent studies have shown texting while driving is as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel.
Borhan Muthana, 16, takes the Allstate Safe Driving Challenge in Detroit, Mich., on Aug. 27, 2012, at Comerica Park. Muthana attempts to text while driving on a closed course. Recent studies have shown texting while driving is as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel. MCT

Question: The person driving behind me is obviously texting — I can see the top of their head for 10 seconds at a time in my rear-view mirror. If I speed up over the speed limit to put some space between myself and the texter, will the officer who pulls me over understand?

Answer: I’m getting into some dangerous territory trying to answer this question, as you’ve asked me to respond on behalf of the law enforcement officer that might stop you if you speed to get away from that bonehead driver texting behind you. I don’t think I can make that prediction, so I’m going to take a different approach. We’ve heard a lot about distracted driving and the increased risk of collisions. Current studies indicate that a texting driver is as at least as serious a risk as an impaired driver. I know when I’ve been driving near what appears to be a drunk driver I give myself some distance. And call 911.

In the situation you’ve described, instead of asking if the officer might understand, ask yourself if the possibility of getting pulled over and maybe even cited for speeding is a better outcome than the possibility of getting in a crash caused by a distracted driver. Driving often involves risk management. For example: If a raccoon runs across the road, do you hit the raccoon or swerve and put your car in the ditch? In your scenario, you’re deciding between a ticket and a crash.

Now before you decide to speed, ask yourself if that’s really your only option. That texting driver is a risk not only to you, but also to the other drivers on the road. And you may be the first one to notice the risk. Instead of speeding away, consider the benefits of pulling onto the shoulder and reporting the dangerous driver. That will put some distance between you and the texter, as well as give a little back to the community of drivers on the road. Maybe that texting driver will change his or her behavior because of a ticket instead of a crash.

Oh yeah, the answer to the raccoon question. Based on crash statistics, the prevailing advice is: Don’t swerve for any animal lower than your hood. Sorry, little raccoon buddy.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030.

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