Colorado, North Carolina ‘texting’ while driving bans take effect Dec. 1

| 11/25/2009

As the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, two states are on the verge of implementing new laws that are intended to cut down on driver distractions while people try to navigate their roadways.

In a matter of days, Colorado and North Carolina will become the 15th and 16th states to ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages.

Intended to help reduce a contributing factor to distracted driving, the new law in Colorado calls for violators to face $50 fines. It takes effect Tuesday, Dec. 1.

The new law also makes it illegal for drivers under 18 to talk on cell phones while driving. Exceptions also will be made for emergency calls.

In the Tar Heel State, the texting ban that takes effect on Tuesday applies to all drivers. Violators will face $100 fines.

North Carolina law already bars drivers under 18 from the practice, and they cannot use cell phones, either.

Critics say enforcement could be difficult. They contend that police would have to pull alongside a moving vehicle and stay there long enough to determine that the driver is texting and not entering a phone number into a cell phone before pulling the vehicle over.

Despite the obvious complexities with enforcement, attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using electronic devices for texting while driving have intensified this year. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has fueled interest in efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

More than a dozen states have acted this year alone to limit distractions. In November, New York and Rhode Island started enforcing bans on the practice of operating a motor vehicle while texting. Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire are scheduled to start enforcing their laws Jan. 1.

The trend is unlikely to slow as state lawmakers already have started prefiling similar bills for consideration during their 2010 regular sessions and the topic continues to receive attention in Congress.

One congressional effort would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

A similar piece of legislation would include a restriction on cell phone use with the ban on texting while driving. This version would dole out $30 million in grants to states that pass laws to curb distracted driving.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to help reduce distracted driving.

The Association would like to see more ride-alongs with law enforcement agencies. OOIDA says the experience allows officers to sit in the cab and see firsthand how people drive around trucks. Such programs could also lead to better enforcement of existing traffic laws.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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