Alaska, Massachusetts, Wisconsin pursue distracted driving measures

| 4/5/2006

The Alaska House has approved a bill that would forbid drivers from watching television or video monitors while the vehicle is moving. The measure allots for stiffer penalties if the driver causes a wreck that kills or injures another person.

The effort stems from a 2002 fatal crash on the Seward Highway. Erwin “Jamie” Petterson Jr. was accused of driving while watching a movie when his vehicle collided with another and two people died. He was acquitted in the deaths.

Sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, the bill would create the crime of driving with a screen operating. The rule would not apply to vehicles’ built-in display, global positioning systems, mapping programs or side- and rear-view video cameras on larger vehicles.

Watching the video screen while driving could result in a misdemeanor charge and a fine of between $2,500 and $10,000. If a person watching the screen was involved in an accident that injures or killed another person, the charge would jump from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The bill – HB12 – has been sent to the Senate for further consideration.

Alaska isn’t alone in its pursuit for stricter guidelines of what drivers can and cannot view while behind the wheel.

A bill in the Massachusetts statehouse would also forbid drivers from watching television and videos while behind the wheel.

Current Massachusetts law already prohibits drivers from watching any device that receives a television broadcast if it’s located in front of the back of the driver’s seat or is visible to the driver – regardless of whether the device interferes with safe driving.

Sponsored by Sen. Jarrett Barrios, D-Cambridge, the bill would amend the law to prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying “a television broadcast or video feed” that is located within the driver’s view.

The restriction wouldn’t apply to dashboard readouts or other displays of information about a vehicle’s operation or conduct.

Drivers found in violation of the rule could be fined between $100 and $200.

Barrios’ bill – S1864 – is in the Joint Committee on Transportation.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, has offered a bill that adds DVDs and video games to the off-limits list.

Drivers found in violation of the rule could be fined as much as $400.

Bies’ bill – AB567 – is in the Assembly Rules Committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor