By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 6:33 PM
A bill introduced today in the Senate would ban motorists from texting or sending e-mail messages while driving.
"Nobody was texting five years ago," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the bill's sponsors. "All of a sudden everybody is. It's both widespread and dangerous."
The bill would force states to write laws to prohibit messaging in vehicles or risk losing 25 percent of their annual federal highway money. Federal lawmakers have used similar strategies to force states to curb speeding and pass seat-belt laws. The new legislation would also set deadlines for regulators at the U.S. Transportation Department to devise minimum penalties for states to implement. States would have two years to enact their own laws. Other sponsors of the bill include Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.).
The introduction of the bill comes a day after the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study on commercial truck drivers that found texting drivers to be 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or a near miss.
The senators also cited recent cases where texting might have played a role. In May, a Boston transit worker, now under indictment, was allegedly texting when a trolley he was driving rear-ended another, injuring dozens. The incident led the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to prohibit train and bus operators from using "personal electronic devices" while working. In September, 25 people died in a Metrolink crash in Southern California. Federal investigators have said the driver had sent a text message before the collision.
"Texting while driving should be illegal on every road, every railway, in every state," Menendez said.
Already, the District and 13 states, including Virginia, have driver texting bans in place or scheduled to become effective his year. Maryland's ban takes effect Oct. 1.