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Distracted Driving Legislation Gains Traction

With the legislative holiday passing and state legislators going back to work all across the country, one of the most common agenda items on the different state legislature's dockets is legislation dealing with distracted driving. Specifically, an increased focus on the dangers of cell phone use and text messaging while driving has caused many state legislatures to introduce bills restricting or banning such behavior in drivers. Many of these bills were in the process of being crafted as the holiday break approached at the end of 2009. With state governmental activity back in full swing, the issue is once again a hot topic.

Cell Use, Texting Widely Banned

Distracted driving legislation is certainly not a new topic; in fact, bills specifically addressing cell phone use have been introduced in different states around the country at different times throughout the years since this technology became widely available to drivers. But as time goes by, both popular and political support for these measures has increased. Distracted driving legislation in some areas has become a popular mandate, making it less of a divisive ideological issue along party lines and more of a nod to changing public perceptions of the need to regulate this activity in the name of public safety.

The current incarnations of distracted driving legislation nationwide are primarily interested in providing a legal framework for controlling the behaviors of drivers as they pertain to cell phone use. Both talking on cell phones and sending and receiving text messages while driving are popular targets of this legislation. The state of Kansas id considering a bill that would ban texting while driving, while the South Carolina legislature is debating a bill that would ban all cell phone use by drivers, with the exception of hands-free phones. In a related move, lawmakers in New Jersey are considering a law to ban drivers from manipulating in-board navigation systems such as GPS devices while the vehicle is on motion [1].

The proposed texting bans appear to have widespread support among drivers, who seem to acknowledge the inherent dangers of such behavior even as many of them exhibit it in their own driving. Legislative debate regarding general cell phone use by drivers is more of a divisive issue, but it has become more of a hot button with more states participating in ever-intensifying debate over cell phone use.

Many States Tackling Distracted Driving

Many states are getting involved in the ongoing and ever-evolving discussion. Aside from the official bills being considered, there has been a great deal of informal discussion going on in legislative chambers all across the country. On top of that, there are already a number of distracted driving laws on the books in various states related to cell phone use. Six states as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have some sort of ban on handheld cell phone use by drivers while the vehicle is in motion. Most of these bans are primary, which means law enforcement officials are authorized to pull over motorists who break the law even in situations where no other violation is observed. In other words, you can be pulled over and ticketed just for using your cell phone while you are behind the wheel.

In addition to these bans, over 20 states have instituted bans on cell phone use for drivers under the age of 21. As of the new year, 17 states across the country had enacted bans on cell phone use by bus drivers while passengers were on board [2].

In addition to legislation governing general cell phone use, states have been grappling with ways to deal with the ever-increasing problem of drivers texting while operating vehicles. Nine states have completely banned text messaging for novice drivers. By the end of 2009, 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam, had passed legislative bans on drivers sending and receiving text messages while they are out on the road.

Most of these states have primary enforcement provisions, adding more teeth to the new laws. Still, the prospect of enforcement remains an issue, as does the question of how much this sort of legislative action will affect cell phone use and texting by drivers on the nation's roads. Even so, the federal government has joined state-level legislatures in the move to institute more restrictions on cell phone use and text messaging among drivers.

Feds Institute Cell Phone Restrictions

The United States Congress has gotten involved in the push for more legal limits on cell phone use by drivers. One example of this increased involvement is in its own efforts to control legislative workers' cell phone use in government-owned vehicles. The U.S. House passed an order in December that banned members of the House staff-8,000 workers in all-from sending and receiving text messages while driving. The order applies to all staff members who drive government vehicles in the course of their work days.

The Congress is also currently in the process of considering at least four separate bills calling for states to regulate cell phone use in various ways. Each of the proposed pieces of legislation seeks to accomplish the task in a different way, and it is unlikely that all four have a chance at passage; nonetheless, the fact that the Congress is taking on the issue directly in its own legislative efforts demonstrates the great importance constituents across the country are attaching to this growing topic of interest.

In addition to the legislative orders and the bills pending the debate of members of Congress, the Obama administration has also gotten into the act of working to counteract the safety issues presented by cell phone use and texting while driving. In October, President Obama signed into law an order banning all federal government employees from sending or receiving text messages while driving government-provided cars in the course of their work day. This order applies to over four million people [1], so its effect will certainly be widely felt.

Both the Obama administration and members of the federal legislative branch of government are even now continuing to seek out new initiatives to try and curb the distracted driving behaviors that follow cell phone use and especially text messaging while operating an automobile on the nation's roads and highways. Most government officials interested in such reforms agree that the task of driving is difficult enough for drivers without adding the challenge of dealing with technology like cell phones. What is still left to be worked out is a cohesive and comprehensive method for dealing with this problem legislatively or by other means while respecting the rights of citizens to the greatest degree possible.

Distracted driving is not a new problem for drivers. Individuals operating automobiles have had to deal with distractions keeping their attention away from the task of driving ever since the invention of the assembly line made cars more accessible financially to the general public. Technological updates have merely added to the long list of things that can distract drivers. Auto owners will have to work with lawmakers to find solutions suitable for everyone.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/02/technology/02distracted.html?pagewanted=1 Retrieved 2010-01-17.
[2] http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html Retrieved 2010-01-17.

 

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