States act on ‘distracted driving’ efforts

| 5/24/2011

Thanks to the feds, truck drivers already are prohibited from texting while driving. More and more states are acting to put into place similar bans for all motorists.

During the past year, about a dozen states have acted to outlaw the distracted driving practice. By the end of this summer, at least 32 states will be enforcing bans while more states are working to approve similar actions.

In the past few weeks, the governors in Indiana and North Dakota have added their states to the list where texting is a no-no while behind the wheel.

In Indiana, texting while driving is already illegal for people under 18. Starting July 1, the ban will apply to all drivers. Violators would face fines up to $500.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Indiana lawmakers for approving the new law. He recently called distracted driving a “deadly epidemic.”

“Distraction is still a factor in too many serious crashes,” LaHood said in a statement. He said the new law “will help make Indiana roads safer.”

As of Aug. 1, law enforcement in North Dakota can begin enforcing the ban as a primary offense, which would authorize police to pull over drivers solely for texting. Violators would face fines up to $500.

Actions in other states around the country also target texting while driving.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that is intended to close a loophole in the state’s texting while driving ban. Existing law covers only the act of typing and sending messages.

On Oct. 1, the ban will specify it is also illegal to read an e-mail or text message while driving. Sending or reading electronic messages while stopped at a red light or stop sign will also be forbidden. Violators would face fines up to $500.

The new law also authorizes primary enforcement. Existing law has classified violations as a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be cited if they were pulled over for another reason, such as speeding.

The Maine Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Paul LePage on Monday, May 23, 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 that could reasonably be expected to impair the driver.

Violations would be $100 fines.

Bills that address distracted driving are also nearing passage in Alabama, Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania. California and Connecticut, which already have texting bans for all drivers, are looking into beefed-up penalties for violators.

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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