Democrats Propose Nationwide Ban on Texting While Driving

A group of Democratic lawmakers in Washington are pushing for a nationwide ban on the dangerous habit of sending and viewing text messages on cell phones and other personal electronic devices while driving. They are hoping to get those states that do not currently have such laws on their books to act by withholding a percentage of highway funding. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who unveiled the legislation Wednesday along with Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, makes his case by saying, “When drivers have their eyes on their cell phones instead of the road, the results can be dangerous and even deadly,”

14 states already have passed legislation making texting while driving illegal, but 36 others, including Florida, have yet to sign such a law into effect. There are critics who question the enforceability of the proposed law, and whether current available research even warrants one in the first place. Still others think that current reckless driving statutes already in place would apply to those caught texting behind the wheel. The agency that represents state highway safety agencies, The Governors Highway Safety Association, thinks the dangers of texting while driving are real, yet does not support the law based on the fact they feel it would be difficult to enforce. According to Vernon Betkey, the highway safety association’s chairman, “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.”

Studies Show The Need…
A new study just released on July 27th confirms what most might assume is just common sense – using your phone for sending or receiving text messages while driving greatly increases the risk of being in a car crash. The study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, found that distracted drivers are an astonishing 23 times more likely to be in an accident, or a “near crash” event, than drivers who keep their eyes on the road. To conduct the research, cameras were mounted in test driver’s vehicles, and researchers studied driver’s eye movement as they attempted to do things such as dial a cell phone, send a text message, insert a CD into the car’s stereo or attempt to retrieve an object from the passenger seat.

The study determined that text messaging could take the driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. This is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field if traveling at 55 miles per hour. Additionally, in what may come as a surprise to some motorists, using a cell phone’s wireless, “hands-free” headset as opposed to the phone itself does not significantly make cell phone use while driving any safer. This finding reflects that both practices cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, which is the key to distracted driving.

The Democratic lawmakers also pointed to another report produced by Car & Driver Magazine where findings indicate texting while driving is actually more dangerous than driving while drunk.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle, or risk losing 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. Under the legislation, the transportation secretary would be required to issue guidelines within six months of the measure being signed into law. From there, states would have two years to approve the bans on texting while driving. States could recover highway funds by passing the legislation after the two-year period.

The bill would only aim at banning texting in a moving vehicle, the AP reported. Drivers would not be barred from texting or e-mailing while in a parked or stopped car.

According to the wireless industry’s trade group, CTIA, the popularity of text messaging is experiencing explosive growth. Nearly 10 billion text messages a month were sent in December 2005, and the number soared to nearly 110 billion per month in December 2008.

Still Legal in Florida…
In February of this year, Florida House of Representatives member Doug Holder, (R-Sarasota), sponsored House Bill HB 377, entitled Use of an Electronic Wireless Communications Device While Driving. The Bill “prohibits operation of moving motor vehicle while reading, manually writing or typing, or sending message on electronic wireless communications device.” However, the bill died in the Roads, Bridges & Ports Committee on May 2nd, 2009.

Florida personal injury lawyers caution that this dangerous practice is still legal on our roadways, and presents as serious a danger as driving while drunk or impaired. “A distracted driver is potentially just as lethal as a drunk driver, and the statistics support that fact,” notes attorney PJ Scheiner, of Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner Personal Injury Lawyers. “We urge all motorists to use extreme caution when they think they are on the road with a driver attempting these extremely hazardous practices.”

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