A dangerous distraction: Wisconsin should outlaw texting while driving


A Wisconsin State Journal editorial
August 16, 2009
Let’s say you are driving down Stoughton Road at the speed limit. The light at the intersection ahead turns red, requiring you to stop abruptly.
Coming up fast behind you is a car in which the driver is busily sending a text message.
What are the odds that the texting driver will look up in time to see you stopped at the light?
If the circumstance makes you think, “there ought to be law,” you’re right.
Wisconsin should ban texting while driving.

Texting requires drivers to remove their attention and their eyes from the business of driving. The distraction creates a risk to public safety that is as bad as or worse than driving while drugged or drunk, both of which are illegal.
Consider: A test by Car and Driver magazine found that texting interfered with driving reactions as much as a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of 0.08. Studies at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Utah produced similar results.
Furthermore, the British Transport Research Laboratory found that drivers’ reaction times slowed by 35 percent when texting — more than the 21 percent slowdown from smoking marijuana.
Evidence like that has already compelled 17 states and the District of Columbia to ban texting while driving. Nine more states have texting prohibitions limited to drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses.
Wisconsin bans inattentive driving, which could apply to texting. But the state should impose a specific texting ban on all drivers and back it up with stiff penalties.
Will a ban eliminate all texting while driving? Not any more than speed limits prevent all speeding. But a ban will add the weight of public policy to a warning that too many drivers now fail to obey: Texting while driving endangers public safety.
Legislation introduced in the state Senate in March points lawmakers in the right direction. Senate Bill 103 would prohibit the use of any electronic text messaging device while driving, except to report an emergency. Penalties would range from a minimum fine of $100 for a first offense up to a $25,000 fine and imprisonment not to exceed 10 years in the case of causing a death in an accident.
The bill would not prohibit drivers from texting while legally parked or stopped on the side of the road.
Lawmakers should schedule the bill for public hearing, work on details and pass a ban on texting while driving.

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