Drivers who use a cell phone or text while driving cause numerous accidents and injuries on roadways every day. A new bill proposed by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Kay Hutchison would place a ban on using handheld cell phones or texting while driving. The bill would encourage states to draft their own distracted driving laws. Once a state enacts distracted driving legislation, they would be eligible to receive grants from the federal government.
Many states already have bans in place, but to qualify for the grants, states would have to draft very aggressive legislation that bans both handheld cell phone use and texting while driving. No driver under the age of 18 would be allowed to use a cell phone while driving. Additionally, the new rules would require that law enforcement be able to stop any driver for texting or talking while driving - even if the driver was obeying all other traffic rules.
Addressing a Widespread Problem
Accident statistics show the dangers of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 21 percent of all injury accidents that occurred in 2008 were the result of distracted driving. This could even be a low estimate, as distracted driving is usually self-reported by drivers, and some states do not actively track these numbers.
Even though drivers know of the dangers of texting or using a cell phone while driving, a recent study by Pew Research reported that 47 percent of drivers surveyed had sent a text while driving. Among teens, the numbers show that distracted driving is a growing trend. According to a recent survey of nearly 2000 teen drivers by AAA and Seventeen magazine, 86 percent admitted to some type of distracted driving.
Sponsors of the bill feel that the states are in the best position to create laws to regulate using cell phones while driving. This allows the state flexibility to create their own rule, and impose their own punishments and fines for any violations of the rule.
How Would the Ban Impact Texas?
Currently, there is a statewide ban on using cell phones or texting for drivers in school zones, for young drivers within the first 12 months of having their license and also for school bus drivers if they have passengers 17 or younger. Some communities in Texas, including Galveston and Missouri City, have already put in place their own rules to address distracted driving. These rules all vary in their scope and application, and the state could be facing pressure to put a uniform rule in place to receive the federal grants.