States move to ban texting while driving

| Thursday, April 22, 2010

A lot of chatter has filled statehouses and Congress this year about curbing the practice of text messaging while driving. The trend doesn’t appear likely to slow anytime soon.

In recent weeks, the governors in Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming have signed bills into law outlawing the reading, writing or typing of text messages. Michigan and Wisconsin are among the states that are nearing completion of legislation to do the same while still more states continue to advance proposed texting bans.

As of late April, 23 states had taken the step that is intended to curb the growing driver distraction. It is arguably the most accepted effort among states to improve safety on roadways since the push to reduce the blood-alcohol level for motorists to 0.08 percent.

At the start of 2008 about a half dozen states had acted to prohibit texting while driving. By the end of 2009 12 more states were added to the list. Land Line research has found that actions at statehouses this year could approach, if not exceed, what was witnessed a year ago.

Critics question whether rules are needed specifying that texting while driving is against the law. They point out that states already have laws on the books prohibiting careless driving and distracted driving. Others say texting bans are difficult to enforce.

Supporters say that many laws are difficult to enforce, but that is no reason to ignore the problem. They also say a ban sends a message to the public that texting is unsafe.

Distracted driving is also getting a lot of attention at the federal level. While the feds already prohibit truckers from texting while driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation wants to put the hammer down on truckers’ use of the mobile devices. The agency recently unveiled a proposal that would elevate texting while driving a truck or bus to its most serious category.

If approved, three violations in a three-year period would result in a 120-day suspension – the same penalty truck drivers face if they’ve been cited for violation of state or local laws in connection with three fatality wrecks during that same time period.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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