Kentucky, Ohio latest states to take up texting while driving bans

| Friday, August 21, 2009

The recent push to eliminate a contributing factor to distracted driving continues to widen. Efforts to adopt legislation outlawing the use of text messaging devices while at the wheel have been offered in Kentucky and Ohio.

Although concerns about distracted driving aren’t new to road users, efforts to address drivers who focus on anything other than the road have continued to pick up steam over the past few weeks as state and federal lawmakers pursue bans.

The latest action is in Kentucky where a state lawmaker has taken the first step toward banning text messaging while driving. Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, has prefiled a bill for consideration during the 2010 regular session that would make “texting” while at the wheel a no-no.

It also would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using any cell phone. Violators would face $50 fines.

Across the state line in Ohio, multiple bills have been offered in recent weeks to limit driver distractions. Democratic Reps. Nancy Garland of New Albany and Connie Pillich of Montgomery have introduced a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

The bill – HB270 – is similar to legislation introduced by Rep. Michael DeBose, D-Cleveland, a couple of weeks ago. However, DeBose’s bill – HB261 – would make texting a secondary offense.

The two states are far from being alone in the pursuit of ridding their highways of one of the many driver distractions. Legislative efforts to address texting while driving have thrived this year at statehouses. Since the calendar turned to 2009, nearly a dozen states have decided to outlaw the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a workout.

A couple of weeks ago Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law to add the state to the list of 17 states to adopt texting bans. Oregon and New Hampshire recently adopted their own legislation to ban the practice. With the bans in these states set to take effect on Jan. 1, they will join 14 others to prohibit use of the devices.

A bill to do the same in New York is on the governor’s desk. An effort in Wisconsin remains active while Florida has another fresh-off-the-press proposal that awaits consideration next year.

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 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.

And a study released 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.

The large majority of people who answered an informal poll on the Land Line site said they support a federal legislative push to ban texting while driving.

The poll question posted at landlinemag.com showed nearly 84 percent in favor of a ban as of mid-afternoon Friday, Aug. 21. More than 10 percent of respondents answered ‘no’ while 6 percent said they would support a ban only if texting were exempt in certain situations.

– 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 statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.

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