U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Feb. 22 unveiled sample legislation to be used as a starting point for states crafting new laws to prohibit texting while behind-the-wheel.
The sample state law, prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a cross-section of safety and industry organizations, would authorize law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle and issue a citation to drivers who are texting while driving.
There is heightened concern about the risks of texting while driving because texting combines three types of distraction – visual, taking the eyes off the road; manual, taking the hands off the wheel; and cognitive, taking the mind off the road.
According to NHTSA research, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. Research also shows the most frequent offenders are the youngest and least-experienced drivers, men and women under 20 years of age.
The sample state law is patterned on an Executive Order issued by President Obama on Oct. 1, directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment, starting on Dec. 30.
In addition, on Jan. 26, Secretary LaHood announced federal guidance to prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have texting laws covering all drivers. In 2009, more than 200 distracted driving bills were considered by state legislatures and legislative activity is expected to remain strong in 2010.
To see the sample bill and the groups that participated in drafting it click here.