States push to reduce ‘distracted driving’ continues

| 7/5/2011

Efforts at statehouses to rein in use of hand-held devices while driving have received a lot of attention for the past several years. With no end in sight, more states are pursuing rules to prohibit drivers from text messaging while at the wheel.

A total of 34 states have acted to outlaw the distracted driving practice. On Friday, July 1, law enforcement in Indiana and Iowa began handing out tickets for combining driving with texting.

Both states also prohibit their youngest drivers from talking on their cellphones.

Despite the effort to get tough with driver distractions, adults in Indiana and Iowa cannot be pulled over solely for a texting violation. Police officers would have to suspect them of breaking another law.

As of Aug. 1, North Dakota police will implement their own ban. The law enables law enforcement to enforce the ban as a primary offense, meaning drivers could be cited solely for violating the ban.

In Maine, a new distracted driving rule takes effect in September. 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.

The law, which is effective in two months, singles out texting while driving.

Elsewhere, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law a bill that includes the texting provision, but it goes a step further to limit devices used to talk with while driving. The ban makes Nevada one of nine states to prohibit use of hand-held cellphones while at the wheel.

The new rule takes effect Jan. 1, 2012. Police can start issuing warnings for violations in October.

Oregon already outlaws text messaging and hand-held cellphone use while driving. However, a bill signed by the governor addresses a perceived loophole in the rule.

Existing state law makes exceptions for drivers who need to use wireless communication as part of their employment. Police say the exception has caused judges to throw out distracted driving tickets when drivers testify they were conducting business via their cellphones.

The new law – HB3186 – removes the business provision from the law and clarifies that all text messaging while driving is forbidden.

The Ohio House has approved a statewide texting ban that would authorize primary enforcement. Currently, many cities throughout the state have prohibited texting while driving.

HB99 would apply the same rule to all communities.

Despite the push around the country to limit driver distractions, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has refused to add the Lone Star State to the list.

Perry vetoed a bill to outlaw texting, instant messaging and emailing while at the wheel. In addition to fines, violators would have faced a license suspension, community supervision and completion of a driving safety course.

Despite acknowledging that texting while driving “is reckless and irresponsible,” the governor said in a statement the bill is “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Instead, Perry is calling for additional education on the issue in driving safety and driver’s education courses, public service ads, and announcements.

Texas law already prohibits the state’s youngest drivers from texting behind the wheel.

In addition to action at statehouses, 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.

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

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