States take up task of banning texting while driving

| Friday, August 07, 2009

Concerns about distracted driving aren’t new to road users, but a recent push to eliminate a contributing factor seemingly is sweeping the nation. Efforts to adopt legislation outlawing the use of text messaging devices while at the wheel are picking up steam as state and federal lawmakers are pursuing bans.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Thursday, Aug. 6, to add the Prairie State to the list of 17 states to adopt “texting” bans. Oregon and New Hampshire recently adopted their own legislation to ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a workout. With the bans in these states set to take effect on Jan. 1, they will join 14 others to prohibit use of the devices.

Legislative efforts to address drivers who focus on anything other than the road have thrived this year at statehouses. Since the calendar turned to 2009, nearly a dozen states have decided to outlaw the practice of texting.

A bill to do the same in New York is on the governor’s desk. An effort in Wisconsin remains active while fresh-off-the-press proposals in Ohio and Florida follow a push by a group of U.S. Senate Democrats who have their eyes on pressing – some might say blackmailing – states to adopt texting bans.

Legislation unveiled a week ago in Congress 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.

Attempts by lawmakers to tackle distracted driving aren’t new. Through the years legislation that addresses such distractions as eating, applying makeup and having pets on drivers’ laps have been debated in statehouses throughout the country. The most fervent efforts to limit distractions have targeted cell phone use, but text messaging has moved to the top of lawmakers’ hit lists.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of texting while driving have intensified in recent months. A study released in July 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 researchers studied truck drivers for 18 months to come up with their findings. But the results generally applied to all drivers.

Following the release of the study, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that passing laws is not enough to stop drivers from being distracted. He has announced a public awareness campaign to focus on the dangers of text messaging while driving.

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.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to