Wisconsin bans texting; ATA supports FMCSA’s anti-texting proposal

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Updated May 7, 2010


U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday, May 5, commended Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle for signing an anti-texting-while-driving bill into law for all drivers in his state. As the 25th state to pass a texting ban, Wisconsin has taken the country halfway toward a nationwide prohibition of texting while driving.

The new Wisconsin law outlaws texting by all drivers. First-time violators face fines of $20 to $400, along with four points on their driving records. Second-time violators face fines of $200 to $800. The law is primary, meaning police officers can stop motorists suspected of this offense alone. It becomes effective on Dec. 1.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic that kills thousands and injures hundreds of thousands more each year,” LaHood says. “We’re thrilled to reach the halfway mark toward laws in every state against this dangerous practice. Everyone on Wisconsin’s roads will be safer because this law is on the books.”

Research compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed an estimated 6,000 deaths and half-a-million injuries to distracted driving in 2008 alone. LaHood recently launched pilot programs in New York and Connecticut as part of a “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.” campaign to study whether increased enforcement and public awareness can reduce distracted driving behavior.

The American Trucking Associations strongly supports the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal to prohibit commercial motor vehicle drivers from text messaging on handheld devices while driving, ATA said in comments filed Monday, May 3, in response to FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the April 1 Federal Register.

“Texting acutely distracts an individual’s attention from the primary driving task and can have a profound impact on a driver’s awareness and performance,” says ATA Vice President for Safety Policy Rob Abbott. “In the interest of improving highway safety, ATA has called on the current administration and Congress to expand the ban on texting to drivers of all vehicles.”

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In addition to supporting the texting ban, ATA applauded the agency for excluding the use of in-cab fleet management systems, global positioning systems and navigation systems. ATA also told FMCSA that motor carriers must not be held accountable for texting violations committed by drivers when the motor carrier neither condoned nor required these acts and could not have prevented them. A motor carrier should not be deemed to have “allowed” a texting offense, or be penalized for a driver’s offense, if the motor carrier has taken all reasonable steps to prevent drivers from texting while operating their vehicle, including prohibiting texting under company policy, training drivers on the policy and progressively disciplining drivers found in violation of the policy.

In October 2008, ATA adopted a policy limiting the use of electronic devices that may distract drivers. The policy recommends that manufacturers and others adopt awareness, training and safety policies on the use of such technologies – unless they already are regulated – during the operation of a motor vehicle. Many ATA member fleets already have adopted company policies designed to reduce distractions while driving, and manufacturers of in-cab communication devices have included mechanisms that “lock out” the device or system while the vehicle is in motion.

In October 2009, ATA’s 42-member Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly to support the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act, which would require states to ban texting while driving.