- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

A group of Democrats wants states to ban texting while driving or face cuts in highway funds, citing the need to reduce driver distraction and potential highway deaths and injuries.

“When drivers have their eyes on their cell phones instead of the road, the results can be dangerous and even deadly,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who introduced the legislation Wednesday with fellow Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal.

Some critics have questioned whether the laws could be enforced, whether there is enough data to warrant such bans and whether reckless driving statutes already cover texting behind the wheel.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies, said it does not doubt the dangers of texting and driving but does not support a ban because it would be difficult to enforce.

“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,” said Vernon Betkey, the highway safety association’s chairman.

The proposal follows a series of studies showing the dangers of operating handheld electronic devices while driving.

In a study released earlier this week, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when they did not. Dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device increased the risk of collision about six times in cars and trucks.

The Virginia Tech researchers said the risks of texting generally applied to all drivers, not just truckers.

The lawmakers also cited a separate report by Car and Driver magazine that found that texting and driving is more dangerous than drunken driving.

Texting has grown from nearly 10 billion messages a month in December 2005 to more than 110 billion in December 2008, according to CTIA, the cellular phone industry’s trade group.

The legislation would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. It would be patterned after the way Congress required states to adopt a national drunken-driving ban.

The transportation secretary would be required to issue guidelines within six months of the measure becoming law, and states then would have two years to approve the bans on texting and driving.

States could recover highway funds by passing the legislation after the two-year period.

The bill would target the activity in a moving vehicle and not prohibit a driver from texting or e-mailing in a stopped one.

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