With the arrival of spring, folks will spend more time outdoors and more time behind the wheel. With more people either driving, walking or riding bicycles, drivers need to be more alert and focused. Texting or talking on a cell phone cannot be part of that equation.
Thankfully, a number of states have recently passed laws banning these unsafe practices.
Courtesy of Orthopaedic Trauma Association (http://www.ota.org)
First, I want to congratulate Wyoming for becoming the 20th state to ban reading and sending text messages while driving. Thank you to the state legislators for passing this measure, and thank you to Governor Dave Freudenthal for promptly signing it into law.
Washington state seems poised to become a safety leader yet again. The state legislature, which was one of the first to ban texting, added a ban on hand-held cell phone use for drivers last Thursday, and this bill would make the practice a primary offense.
"Maybe now people will pay attention to their driving instead of their conversations, " says State Sen. Tracey Eide. It now awaits Gov. Gregoire's signature.
"Calling Plan." Visit distraction.gov for more information
I am so happy to hear about that kind of support; it's really encouraging. We'll watch how that legislation advances in both states and report back to readers here.
In Iowa, the legislature has been busy negotiating to get a texting ban passed. I want to thank Governor Chet Culver for leading the fight to make sure that Iowa's ban did not just cover teen drivers. “You can’t mess around with distracted drivers," he says. "We want this to apply to anyone that’s texting because it’s dangerous no matter what the age."
I'm with Chet, and apparently the Iowa Senate is, too. That body unanimously rejected such a narrow law. I wish the Iowa legislature's current compromise didn't limit texting to a secondary offense, but we'll take our progress toward safety one step at a time.
Closer to the DC area, the Maryland legislature seems to be struggling to move its bill forward. A lot of folks are saying it's impossible to enforce such a ban. Well, on that count, I would point detractors back to the state of Washington, where police are grateful for the chance to try.
As Republican Mike Hope, a State Representative who is also a Seattle police officer says, "“It gives police another tool they can use to provide safety to the public."
And I would point them to Police Chief Larry Rinehart, of Bexley, Ohio, who says writing tickets is not even the point: "Nobody expected that we would put Bexley police officers on street corners with binoculars to catch people trying to text." It's all, he says, about making "a statement to the community, especially young people, that texting while driving is unacceptable and can have deadly consequences."
Congratulations, also, to St. Charles County, Missouri. County Executive Steve Ehlmann's executive order bans the county's 1,000 employees from texting at the wheel. Thank you, Steve. Add to that the Missouri DOT's rule banning its 6,300 employees from texting while driving department vehicles and the Missouri state law banning drivers under 21 from texting, and you'd have to say the Show-Me state gets it.
And finally, the city of Columbus, Ohio, is moving forward on the texting front. Councilman Andrew Ginther's proposed ordinance is on the agenda for later this month. While the state of Ohio is also moving a texting ban forward, some municipalities, like Columbus, don't want to wait.
I'm with them. Texting behind the wheel is a deadly epidemic; counties and cities can't afford to wait for their states to get on board, and the people using our roadways and intersections can't afford it either.
So, my most enthusiastic congratulations to Wyoming and Washington and the states that are moving forward to reduce these dangerous driving practices. Working together, with a variety of tools, we can continue making America's roads safer for everyone.