Oregon and New Hampshire are among the states that have adopted legislation to address drivers who focus on anything other than the road.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law a bill that is intended to reduce a couple of driver distractions. Previously HB2377, the new rule limits cell phone use and bans text messaging while driving.
A couple of days later in New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch signed a bill that prohibits “texting” or using two hands to operate a wireless device while driving. HB34 makes an exception for entering a number or name in a cell phone. Violators would face $100 fines.
Oregon and New Hampshire became the 15th and 16th states to ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a workout. Since the calendar turned to 2009 nearly 10 states have decided to outlaw the practice.
There soon could be more incentive for states to follow in their footsteps. A group of U.S. Senate Democrats have their eyes on pushing – some might say blackmailing – states to adopt texting bans. Legislation unveiled in Congress Wednesday, July 29, would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.
The legislation is patterned after the federal requirement used to get states to adopt stricter drunken driving rules to secure funding.
The Oregon law prohibits drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Using mobile communication devices to read, write or send text messages also will be a no-no. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device will still be permitted for drivers 18 and older.
Oregon law already prohibits cell phone use for drivers under 18.
Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios will be exempted. Also, exceptions will be made for persons operating a vehicle within the scope of employment.
Violations will be a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could pull over drivers solely for using hand-held devices. Offenders would face up to $90 fines.
The new rules in Oregon and New Hampshire take effect Jan. 1.
“It is clear that texting while driving poses a serious danger on our roadways. This new law sends a strong message that drivers should be attentive to the road, and those around them at all times,” Lynch said in a written statement.
Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of texting while driving have intensified in recent months. A study released a week ago by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is likely to fuel more efforts to quell usage of the wireless devices. 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.
The study used truck drivers for 18 months to come up with their findings. But the results generally applied to all drivers.
In all, 14 states already ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages. States to adopt bans this year include Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Bills to do the same in Illinois and New York are on their governor’s desks.
A recent poll on the Land Line site shows how truckers view the issue of driver distractions. Almost half, or 45 percent, of the respondents said that states should focus their efforts on banning hand-held phones while allowing drivers to continue to use hands-free devices. Following closely behind, 41 percent of voters said lawmakers should quit trying to legislate everything people do.
A far smaller number of respondents – 11 percent – said no one should use their cell phones or send text messages while driving. Only about 2 percent said restrictions should be focused on the youngest drivers.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Oregon in 2009, click here. For New Hampshire, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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