States advance ‘distracted driving’ efforts

| 4/13/2011

The feds have already forbidden truckers to text while driving. Now states stretching from Nevada to Maryland are pushing forward with legislation that is intended to curb driver distractions for all drivers.

During 2010, nearly a dozen states acted to prohibit texting while driving. In all, 30 states have outlawed the practice, with many more aggressively pursuing similar actions this year.

The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation intended to close a loophole in the state’s texting while driving ban. Existing law covers only the act of typing and sending messages.

House and Senate lawmakers passed a measure to specify it is also illegal to read an email or text message while driving. Sending or reading electronic messages while stopped at a red light or stop sign would also be forbidden.

Violators would face fines up to $500.

Currently, violations are a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be cited if they were pulled over for another reason, such as speeding. Awaiting Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature, the bill would authorize primary enforcement.

A separate effort to change the state’s hand-held cell phone law from a secondary offense to a primary offense was killed in a Senate committee. House lawmakers previously approved it.

In Alabama, the House voted 86-2 to advance a bill to prohibit all drivers from sending text messages while driving. The state’s youngest drivers already are forbidden from engaging in the distracting activity.

Violations would be a primary offense, which would authorize police to pull over drivers solely for texting. Fines would start at $25.

Nevada lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to limit driver distractions. State law already allows police to cite inattentive drivers, but that isn’t enough for proponents of stricter distraction rules.

Two bills awaiting floor consideration in their respective chamber would specifically ban texting and hand-held cell phone use while driving.

One version calls for fines that start at $50. The other option would authorize fines starting at $250. Both versions include escalating fines that could reach as high as $1,000 and suspension of driving privileges of at least six months.

The Nevada Legislature needs to agree on wording before sending a bill to Gov. Brian Sandoval.

A Texas bill intended to reduce occurrences of texting while driving is on its way to the Senate. House lawmakers voted 107-16 to advance the bill, which would prohibit writing or sending a text message while at the wheel. However, reading a text would not be forbidden.

State law already prohibits texting while driving in school zones. It is also illegal for drivers under 18 to use a cell phone.

In Indiana, texting while driving is already illegal for people under 18. The Senate recently approved a House bill that would apply the ban to all drivers. Violators would face fines up to $500.

A change made to the bill in the Senate also bans talking on the phone. The change is expected to send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee to agree on a single version.

Awaiting consideration in the Arizona House is a Senate-approved bill to ban texting while driving. Exceptions would be made for those who are dialing phone numbers or in vehicles parked out of traffic.

Violators would face $50 fines that jump to $200 if an accident results.

The Oklahoma Senate voted to move a bill forward to stop all drivers from texting while at the wheel. Currently, the state prohibits only drivers under 17 from texting.

Despite the obvious complexities with enforcement, attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using electronic devices for texting while driving have intensified during the past couple of years. Studies that show drivers are more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel have spurred pursuit of state bans.

The topic of texting has also been a topic of discussion at the federal level. A federal rule that bans the practice while driving a commercial vehicle was issued a year ago.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the federal ban, but OOIDA opposes the next step being taken by the FMCSA to restrict drivers’ use of hand-held cellphones.

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