NC lawmakers give their OK to driver texting ban

June 9, 2009

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RALEIGH, N.C. – Lawmakers want North Carolina motorists to stop mashing their cell phone keypads while mashing on the gas.
Legislation to ban drivers from text messaging or sending e-mails with their cell phones won final approval Tuesday in the state Senate. The House had already approved the measure, so it now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue. Her office said she expects to sign the bill into law, which would take effect on Dec. 1.
North Carolina would become the latest state to bar the practice as a way to reduce drive distraction and deadly accidents.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now prohibit text messaging by drivers, nearly double the number just four months ago, according the National Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies.
Supporters of the legislation say texting drivers often look down to type or keep an unstable hold on the steering wheel while typing with both hands.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Sen. Jim Forrester, R-Gaston, who shepherded the House bill in the Senate.
Violators could face a $100 fine plus court costs. School bus drivers, already barred from cell phone use on the road, would now be subject to the texting ban as well.
The bill passed Tuesday would make exceptions for emergency responders, as well as people who use voice-activated technology or access global navigation systems.
The bill passed by a relatively narrow vote of 30-18, as senators complained it was wrong to pass a law that’s hard for police to enforce.
It will still be legal for adult drivers to make calls on a cell phone.
“How can (police) tell whether they’re dialing a number or texting someone?” Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, asked Forrester.
But the state Highway Patrol spoke in favor of the measure in committee. Even if enforcement is difficult, the ban still will change people’s habits, said Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland.
“There are North Carolinians who will go by the law whether you stop them and give them a ticket or not,” Purcell said. “There’s a number of lives that can be saved by the legislation.”
A 2006 law already made it illegal for young drivers to use a cell phone, with some exceptions.
A study co-sponsored by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved a form of driver inattention seconds before the accident. Cell phones are the primary cause of inattention, the 2008 study found.
“AAA Carolinas thinks the highways of North Carolina will be safer with the passage of this legislation,” motor club lobbyist Harry Kaplan said.
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