It is now illegal for motorists to send or receive text messages while driving in Washington state. Doing so can result in a $124 ticket...

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It is now illegal for motorists to send or receive text messages while driving in Washington state. Doing so can result in a $124 ticket.

It is also illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These penalties are more severe, with fines and fees ranging from $823 to $5,000, plus jail time, license suspension, mandatory programs and other social or financial penalties.

This is an example of unequal justice, and another case of where the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. I am, of course, baiting the reader. I do not favor lessening DUI penalties, as people continue to drive drunk in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is very stupid behavior.

Rather, it is clear the penalty for Driving While Texting (DWT) is something of a joke. It is one of those laws (such as the upcoming wireless-cellphone requirement) where the cops are not allowed to nail a motorist for the infraction. Instead, they must pull over the allegedly guilty party for some other violation and then write the texting ticket.

Cops can get around this, as they can always pull you over for something. Still, a violator can always maintain that the flagged offense is bogus and then argue a “fruit of the poisoned tree” defense to throw out the texting violation. We will also hear a lot of “but, officer, I was stopped at the light” whiners. This may mean that few tickets will actually stick, and the behavior will not change.

Perhaps some traffic officers are reading this angrily, and will jump in their cruisers and go catch a texter, just to prove me wrong. Well, that’s the point.

Why come down so hard on texters? Drunken drivers are careless, selfish and disrespectful of other people’s safety. Texters are all this, with an extra dose of arrogance. Not only is your safety unimportant to them, but it is secondary to their ability to receive personal information. I can’t decide which is worse — whether I am endangered by one person’s need to close a deal or another’s desire to chat about hooking up.

Driving drunk — or, on another level, operating a large deadly machine without your full attention — is a dangerous, careless act that deserves punishment. But if we accept the common belief that alcoholism is a disease, drunken drivers are suffering from an ailment. Even if they deserve punishment, we can explain their actions as a symptom. On the other hand, text criminals have no such excuse.

In theory, we learn concepts of right and wrong from our parents and teachers, so we know how to live together with others in peace and harmony. In practice, we are a nation of laws, with many of these edicts needed to protect us from ourselves, each other and, lately, the misuse of technology.

While we should be ashamed that a law against DWT is needed, it is especially embarrassing that it does not go far enough.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at