Lawmakers trying to ban texting in the car

Democratic lawmakers recently called for states to ban texting while driving or face cuts in highway money, citing the need to reduce driver distraction and potential highway deaths and injuries.

“When drivers have their eyes on their cell phones instead of the road, the results can be dangerous and even deadly,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who presented the legislation Wednesday with Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Fourteen states — Texas is not among them — and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal.

Questions have arisen, however, over whether the laws could be enforced, whether there is enough data to warrant a ban or if reckless driving statutes already cover texting.

Steve Largent, a former Oklahoma congressman who leads a group kown as CTIA — The Wireless Association, said his organization supports “state legislative remedies to solve this issue. But simply passing a law will not change behavior. We also need to educate new and experienced drivers on the dangers of taking their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies, said that though texting and driving is dangerous, it does not support a ban because it would be difficult to enforce.

“Highway safety laws are only effective if they can be enforced and if the public believes they will be ticketed for not Complying. To date, that has not been the case with many cell phone restrictions,” said Vernon Betkey, the group’s chairman.

The proposal follows studies showing the dangers of operating
handheld devices while driving.

In a study on texting while driving dangers released this week, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. Dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device increased risk of collision about six times in cars and trucks. The researchers said the risks of texting generally applied to all drivers, not just truckers.

Lawmakers also cited a report by Car and Driver magazine that suggested texting and driving is more dangerous than drunken driving.

Texting has grown from about 10 billion Messages a month in December 2005 to more than 110 billion in December 2008, said CTIA, the cell phone industry’s trade group.

The legislation would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. It would be patterned after the way Congress required states to adopt a national drunken driving ban.

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