After researchers at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when truck drivers texted while behind the wheel, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when they were not texting, lawmakers in Washington proposed legislation to make it a federal offense to text while driving.
Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal. California is one of them.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Officer John Lutz said that their officers wrote 275 citations in July 2008, when the cell phone law first went into effect.
“People have things to do,” Lutz explained. “That’s why we have to stay on top of these laws; even with the speed law, if we don’t stay on top of it all the time, people will run rampant.”
Lutz said that he’s not surprised by the findings of the researchers on the hazards of texting.
“We know that it’s a significant contributor as an associated factor,” he said. “It will never be the cause of a collision, but it certainly will be an associated factor.”
Representatives of the wireless industry said that statewide laws are one measure, but that education was much more important than a ticket or a fine.
The Virginia Tech researchers also said that the risk of texting went across the board – that drivers didn’t have to be driving a big rig to be a hazard. The legislators also cited a study by Car and Driver Magazine that found that texting and driving is more dangerous than drunken driving.
One of the proposals from the legislators was to withhold federal highway funding from states that did not enact laws banning texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle, similar to the way drunken driving legislation was enacted and maintained.
California’s law prohibiting texting while driving went into effect January 1, 2009 and carries a fine of $76 for the first offense and $175 for each subsequent offense. Those fees and penalties are subject to court costs and other penalties applicable in varying jurisdictions.