We were inspired to make teenagers who drive while talking or texting on their cell phones the subject of our Question of the Week by the admirable way Capital High addressed the issue last month.

The school devoted an entire hour — including a showing of an emotional episode of “Oprah” — to raising students’ awareness of how dangerous distracted driving can be and discussing how to curb it.

So we asked, “Should there be legal penalties for teenagers who are caught talking or sending text messages on cell phones while driving?”

The response was overwhelming in a couple of ways.

First, 75 percent of the responses to the unscientific survey, 148 of them, were “yes.” The other 25 percent, 49 responses, were “no.”

Also, nearly every comment we received said penalties for distracted drivers is a good idea, but it’s an idea that shouldn’t be limited to teenagers. There is no evidence, the readers said, that teenagers are more likely than adults to use their cell phones while driving.

We take their point, and we urge the Legislature to seriously address the issue — for teenagers and everyone else — in next year’s session.

In 2009, a couple of distracted-driving measures were introduced, but they went nowhere.

A Senate bill would have banned drivers from using cell phones and all “mobile electronic devices” including hand-held PDAs, text-messaging devices, video game players and laptops. The bill cleared committee, but went no further.

A bill in the House would have prohibited the use of cell phones and text messaging devices on highways near most cities and in school zones. It was tabled in committee.

Lawmakers must do better in the next session.

Meanwhile, here are some of the comments we received on the Question of the Week:

- I think I speak for all teenagers when I say that we are tired of being singled out.

For example, not being able to take our backpacks into a gas station. I don’t steal, but because a few teens do, we are all labeled as bad people.

We are talked down to because adults think we are immature and dumb. The “Question of the Week” is a perfect example of this situation.

If there should be penalties for teens who are caught talking or sending text messages on cell phones while driving, well then adults should be charged with equal penalties.

- I am a 15-year-old teenager in our Helena community, and I am speaking for the teen population in our town.

I see many adults using phones while driving, and I think the idea of putting legal penalties on just teenagers is wrong.

If this is going to be a seriously considered law, then it should include all ages of people with equal consequences.

It amazes me how many adults look down on my generation with shame, but we are the future and we deserve fair laws that don’t discriminate against our age group.

You cannot legislate good behavior. Parents need to be parents and set examples for their children by not using cell phones while driving and by enforcing parent-made rules so teenagers will not talk and text while driving.

- No, I don’t think there should be legal penalties for teenagers who talk or text while driving. First off, it is not just the teenagers. It is the adults, also.

If you have watched Oprah’s “No phone zone” program, then (you) know it is educating the drivers out there now about the fatal consequences of texting and talking while driving.

I think the actual driving course — shown on the show — should be a must for all teenagers getting their licenses. A plus would be having to take the course for license renewal. Helena has the facility to do this. Maybe we could save some lives.

- Why limit the legal penalties to teenagers? The other day, I saw a woman steering with her wrists while she was texting and driving. Carelessness and stupidity have no age limits.

- Why should legal penalties be restricted to teenagers? Cell phone use has been shown to have as negative an effect on driving as being legally under the influence of alcohol. As with DUIs, adults should be subject to penalties for cell phone-impaired driving.

— I am writing because of the Question of the Week. This upset many people I know because it isn’t just teenagers that are texting and talking while driving. You treat us like we’re completely different than adults.

We aren’t horrible things that should be tossed aside. If we are the future, then why do you treat us like crap? If we do what we see, then we are going to end up treating the world like crap, and the future of the United States will be horrible.

— I voted no — why only pick on teens? There should be legal consequences for anyone who talks or texts on a cell phone while driving.

You adults know who you are. And despite what you think, you are not good drivers while you are using that phone.

(1) comment

Purple

How about this;

the state legislature pass a law which prohibits the use of cellphones for talking or texting while operating a motor vehicle.

The penalty for teen drivers would be the forfeiture of their driving priviledges until they graduate from high school, $5,000.00 fine, confiscation of their motor vehicle, and 3,000 hours of community service for one year.

For adults, they would be allowed limited driving priviledges (they could ONLY drive to and from work), a $15,000.00 fine, and 5,000 hours of community service for one year.

For all, notify their insurance company and mandate that their insurance premiums DOUBLE for five years.

The ONLY way you are going to STOP the risky habit of using cellphones for talking or texting is to be hard as nails. If you make the penalty so stiff it will get folks attention.

Helena has already suffered two or three TOO MANY deaths due to the operator talking or texting while driving.

Operating a motor vehicle is a PRIVILEDGE not a right.

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