This Tuesday the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban all drivers from texting behind the wheel. Drivers caught texting could face fines ranging from $20 to $400, the same rates assessed by a pre-existing state law against inattentive driving. The bill passed 27-5 but must be approved by the Assembly before becoming law.
The Senate began debate on an edited weaker version of the bill that would only have banned drivers 18 and younger from texting while driving The original, stronger bill that passed today was proposed by state Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere.
At first glance, the bill may seem to be the complaints of a older lawmaker and his disdain for kids and their newfangled phones. But the bill, particularly as a more stringent, all-ages ban, would significantly increase safety for Wisconsin drivers.
Such a ban is overdue, though it is not surprising how slowly the Legislature is moving to counter the relatively recent upward trend in texting and driving.
State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, brought up legitimate privacy concerns with the new bill, noting it would be difficult to enforce and might require police to investigate people's cell-phone records. But the government has the right and the responsibility to regulate your behavior on the road. Wisconsin regulates driving while intoxicated to protect the safety of all drivers. Hurtling thousands of pounds of steel down a road is a privilege, a privilege within the state's authority to regulate to ensure the safety of everyone.
The ban is not as harsh as in other states, such as Utah, where texting or e-mailing behind the wheel can result in a $750 fine and 90 days in jail.
Nineteen states have banned texting while driving. New Jersey and Washington led the way with the first bans in 2007. In July, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released the findings of a study showing that commercial truck drivers were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash when driving and texting.
For those addicted to communicating while driving, chatting is still possible with Bluetooth and phone features that convert speech to text.
People are busy, and texting may seem like an acceptable diversion. But distractions should not be an acceptable part of driving. Your text can wait for the safety of yourself and others. In the end, passing this bill into law is the most effective way to protect drivers on Wisconsin's roads. After all, road safety is nothing to LOL about.