Cell phone use equals DWI behind the wheel

David Barkemeyer
Milam County Judge

I n my county courtroom, I handle Class A & B criminal misdemeanor cases which are punishable by up to one year in county jail (6 months for Class B) and up to $4,000 fine ($2,000 for Class B) and/or up to 3 years probation, with some Class C cases (punishable by up to a $500 fine only).

All criminal felony cases are handled in district court. In reviewing the county court case load in 2013, I noticed that we began the year with 220 cases pending at the beginning of Jan. 2013 that had not been settled.

During the year, 463 new cases were filed and 82 cases were appealed to county court from the justiceof the-peace courts in the county including probation cases that were revoked, making a total of 765 cases that were available to be heard in my county courtroom.

During the year we settled 556 cases with only one case going to jury trial, leaving 209 cases pending at the beginning of this year.

When I took office in January 2011, there were 350 cases pending, so my conclusion is that the county attorney’s office and I are doing a good job of keeping up with our misdemeanor case docket, having steadily reduced the backlog of pending cases during my first term in office from 350 to 209.

During 2013, $322,000 in fines and fees was collected in County Court (including that collected by the Adult Probation Department from those sentenced to probation by County Court) that were deposited to General Fund revenue which was about the same amount as we collected in 2012 which was $326,000.

This compares to $264,000 collected in 2010, the year before I took office.

These facts and figures should give you some means of judging my performance in the judicial aspects of my job as your county judge.

This certainly does not give you the complete picture, particularly from a qualitative point of view. But if you have some suggestions or have any ideas on other information that I might present, I’d welcome your suggestions.

About 15% of the county court case load involves DWI (driving while intoxicated) cases which in general means having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. This is considered very dangerous and is a criminal offense.

This past month I attended my county judge’s continuing education training for the year. One of our speakers made a presentation on the dangers of the use of cell phones while driving.

He presented a lot of data, but the conclusion of it all was that driving while talking on your cell phone, even “hands-free” phones is equivalent to driving while intoxicated.

One study that really was startling was one done in 2013 by the National Safety Council of fatal car crashes that revealed that 25% were due to cell phone distractions. That’s right, 25%.

And texting while driving could be even worse than driving while intoxicated.

A number of illustrations were shown to prove that multitasking is a myth, the human brain cannot do two things at once.

The statement was made that technology is a part of the solution, but “hands free” is not one of them. The conclusion is this, people are dying and distraction is a major cause.

Like driving without our seat belt fastened, our brain disguises how risky distracted driving really is.

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2014-04-03 digital edition

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