By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
The feds have already singled out truckers for texting while driving. Now states dotting the country 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 are enforcing bans, with many more aggressively pursuing similar actions.
On Tuesday, April 26, Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law a bill adding North Dakota to the list of states where texting is a no-no while behind the wheel. Effective Aug. 1, law enforcement can begin enforcing the ban as a primary offense, meaning drivers could be cited if they were pulled over for another reason, such as speeding. Violators will face $100 fines.
“Texting while driving is clearly a dangerous distraction that can result in serious injury or death, and I’m glad to see we are joining a growing number of states that are taking this action to make our roads a safer place,” Dalrymple said in a statement.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the bill signing.
“North Dakota has taken an important step to eliminating distracted driving,” LaHood stated.
Other states from Maine to Nevada are nearing rules that would prohibit texting while driving.
In Indiana, texting while driving is already illegal for people under 18. A House-Senate conference committee on Tuesday rewrote a bill that would apply the ban to all drivers. Violators would face fines up to $500.
A provision that was dropped from the bill sought to ban talking on the phone.
The bill awaits floor votes in both chambers before moving to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ desk for his expected signature.
An Alabama Senate panel voted Wednesday, April 27, to send a bill to the full Senate that would 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. Fines would start at $25.
If approved by the Senate, the bill would head to Gov. Robert Bentley. The House already approved it on an 86-2 vote.
The Nevada Senate voted Tuesday to move 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.
A bill headed to the Assembly would forbid text messaging while driving and would make Nevada the ninth state to prohibit use of hand-held devices while driving. Fines would start at $50. Escalating fines would result for subsequent offenses.
In Missouri, the House voted Wednesday to advance a bill to the Senate that would fine offenders $200. The Show-Me State already prohibits drivers 21 years old and younger from engaging in the distracting activity. The bill would include all drivers in the ban.
Maine lawmakers are nearing passage of a bill to outlaw the distracting practice. The state already has a distracted driving law, which prohibits any activity that isn’t necessary to the operation of the vehicle and could reasonably be expected to impair the driver.
The Senate has approved a bill that would specifically ban texting. It awaits a House floor vote before it can move to Gov. Paul LePage.
A Texas bill intended to reduce occurrences of texting while driving is on its way to the Senate. House lawmakers advanced the bill to 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 cellphone.
The Oklahoma Senate voted to move a bill to the House to stop all drivers from texting while at the wheel. Currently, the state only prohibits drivers under 17 from texting.
California and Connecticut, which already have texting bans for all drivers, are looking into beefed-up penalties for violators.
In California, the Senate voted to advance a bill to the Assembly that would increase fines for texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving from $20 to $50. The amount would be raised to about $300 after court costs.
Repeat offenders would face $100 fines – up from $50. With fees added, the fine would top out at about $500. In addition, violators would have one point added to their license.
Also targeted by the bill are bicyclists. Biking while texting could result in $20 fines with no additional fees.
Connecticut law already forbids texting and taking on a hand-held phone while behind the wheel. Fines start at $100.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would allow police to seize a repeat offender’s driver’s license for 24 hours. The fine for repeat offenses would also increase from $150 to $500.
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.
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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