Four states boost deterrents to distracted driving

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, July 26, 2013

State lawmakers around the country have taken steps to boost the deterrent for motorists to drive while distracted.

Rhode Island lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would increase the penalties for texting while driving.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee will decide on legislation that would allow the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal to consider license suspensions instead of, or in addition to, fines for offenses.

First-time offenders of the texting ban would face $85 fines and/or license suspension for up to 30 days. Repeat offenders could be fined $100 and/or loss of driving privileges for up to three months. Subsequent offenses could result in $125 fines and/or license suspension for up to six months.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said the new law will send a message to drivers.

“A simple fine is not enough to deter a driver from texting while he or she is operating a vehicle,” Sosnowski said in a news release. “The possible addition of a license suspension is a much more appropriate repercussion for such a dangerous practice.”

In New York, a new law increases the penalties for the state’s youngest drivers caught texting while at the wheel. Taking pictures and playing games while driving are also covered by the new law.

The Empire State already authorizes primary enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving. Violators face fines up to $150 and three penalty points on a license.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently acted to administratively increase the penalty for texting from three to five points on an offender’s license.

Young motorists found in violation lose their driving privileges for 60 days. A second occurrence could result in a six-month penalty for drivers with probationary licenses and 60 days for drivers with junior licenses.

Records show that 43 percent of teen drivers admit that they regularly text while driving.

“Inattention and inexperience is a deadly combination – one this legislation seeks to deter,” Cuomo said in a news release.

Across the state line in New Jersey, a new rule puts in place a “three strikes” policy when dealing with distracted drivers.

New Jersey law already allows police to pull over drivers for typing, reading or sending text messages while at the wheel. It also allows primary enforcement of the state’s ban on using any cellphone that is not a hands-free device.

Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill to stiffen penalties for drivers who get caught talking on a handheld device or texting while driving. It takes effect in summer 2014.

First-time offenders would face fines between $200 and $400 – up from $100. Repeat offenses could result in $600 fines, while subsequent offenses could cost as much as $800.

Third-time offenders would also face the loss of driving privileges for 90 days. In addition, three points would be added to licenses.

Oregon lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. John Kitzhaber that would dig deeper into the pocketbooks of many texting drivers who are nabbed by police.

The bill – SB9 – would double the maximum fine for texting while driving to $500 – up from $250. The rule would apply only to drivers using handheld devices.

The Oregon Department of Transportation would also be responsible for posting about 100 signs around the state warning motorists of the new penalties.

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