Manicure Behind the Wheel: Should Distracted Drivers Face Jail Time?

By Sadie Bass

May 6, 2009 7:06pm

ABC News’ Barbara Pinto reports:

Anita Zaffke’s helmet could not save her.  The 56 year old suburban Chicago mom was on her motorcycle, stopped at a traffic light Saturday afternoon — when a car hit her from behind.  The impact sent Zaffke flying, and caused the massive injuries that took her life.   Police say the crash was caused by a distracted driver.

"She was painting her nails while she was driving her vehicle," explained Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran.  "She conceded to use she was not paying attention."

The driver of the car, 48 year old Lora Hunt, a nurse with a clean driving record, was issued a traffic ticket for failing to reduce speed, while prosecutors consider more serious charges.

According to the National Safety Council, distracted drivers cause more than a third of all automobile accidents.  From talking to texting, eating to personal grooming, there seems to be no shortage of ways to multi-task while in motion.

"The automobile is not supposed to be your entertainment center. It is not supposed to be an extension of your business office, or a beauty parlor," says Illinois State Representative Bill Black, who is advocating legislation in his home state to crack down on distracted drivers.

"The vehicle code is having a difficult time catching up with technology that is available to drivers today," said Rep. Black.

Five states ban all cell phone use while driving. Another 11 states now ticket for texting behind the wheel.  But few states make provisions for drivers who are fixing their make-up, or eating behind the wheel.

"They are both very high risk activities," explains John Ulczycki of the National Safety Council.  “Drunk driving is now illegal.  Distracted driving needs to be illegal as well."

But, critics wonder where to draw the line? Is programming a GPS more of a distraction than tuning the car radio?

"Truth be told, anything we’re doing other than giving our full attention to the road is potentially a distraction, but that doesn’t make it a criminal case," said Darren Kavinoky, a criminal defense attorney who practices in California.

Illinois is one of the states now debating whether to make distracted driving a crime — after the death of cyclist Matt Wilhelm.  The driver –- who was downloading cell phone ring tones at the time — was issued a traffic ticket.

"There should be a little more stringent penalty than driving too fast for conditions or improper lane usage especially when somebody dies as a result of your inattentiveness to your driving," said Rep. Black, who sponsored the bill.

Greg Zaffke couldn’t agree more.  He lost his mother just days before Mother’s Day.

"Drive as if you want to go home to loved ones," he told a local news reporter.

Zaffke has painted his fingernails black, in an attempt to draw attention to the need for stricter laws.  Those laws, he believes, might have prevented his mother’s death.

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