New road safety laws set to take effect

| Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Once the calendar turns over to 2010, new laws that are intended to make roadways safer in about a dozen states throughout the country are slated to take effect.

In Ohio, snow, sleet and rain could cause more problems for travelers than simply increasing the probability of wrecks. A new law on the books requires headlights to be flipped on when windshield wipers are in use.

The rule has been in place since July, but violators have been getting away with warnings. That no longer will be the case on Friday, Jan. 1.

Ohio is the latest of 17 states to adopt the lights-during-precipitation law. The Buckeye State’s law is considered a secondary offense – meaning drivers would face as much as $150 in fines if they are pulled over for another reason.

Oregon has multiple new rules of interest. Among them is a change to the state’s “move over” law. Roadside assistance vehicles and tow trucks are being added to the list of emergency vehicles that drivers are required to make room for along roadsides.

The safety initiative is designed to protect police and other emergency personnel during roadside stops. Travelers are required to change lanes on roads with at least two lanes in each direction or to slow down if they cannot merge into a lane further away. On smaller roads, drivers are supposed to reduce speed.

The law clarifies that “slow down” means driving at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit.

A separate law is intended to improve safety and comfort for travelers stopped at rest areas, as well as scenic overlooks, throughout Oregon. Law enforcement will be permitted to issue citations for prohibited behaviors and activities identified by the state Department of Transportation, which include using restroom facilities to bathe.

Another change secures federal funding by targeting excessively drunken drivers. The new law allows for a minimum $2,000 fine for anyone convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.15 percent. Until now, there hasn’t been a different fine based on BAC level.

In Georgia, a new law increases maximum speeding penalties. It tacks $200 fines onto traffic tickets for “super speeders.” Penalties could be applied to those caught driving more than 85 mph on interstates and four-lane roads, or more than 75 mph on two-lane roads.

Concerns about distracted driving spurred lawmakers in many states to take action during the past year to prohibit drivers’ use of typing, sending and receiving text messages.

Starting Friday, Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire will be added to the list of 16 states enforcing texting bans. Of particular interest to truckers, Illinois makes an exception for Qualcomm-type devices.

A similar rule change also taking effect in Illinois forbids talking on a cell phone while driving through construction or school zones. However, it still permits use of hands-free devices.

In Oregon, use of hand-held cell phones and text messaging is prohibited. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device will still be permitted for drivers 18 and older. For truckers, CB radios will be exempted. Also, exceptions will be made for persons operating a vehicle within the scope of employment.

keith_goble@landlinemag.com

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