Wisconsin Moves Closer to Banning Texting While Driving

Wisconsin Moves Closer to Banning Texting While Driving

For most drivers, seeing another person operating a vehicle while impaired can be a frightening experience. But alcohol is not the only thing that can make a driver dangerous. Talking on a cell phone and eating also contribute to driver negligence and now texting can be added to the list.

In Wisconsin, the state legislature moved closer than ever before to completely banning texting while driving. The bill has now passed both the Senate and Assembly by large bipartisan votes. Most recently, by an 89-6 vote, the Assembly voted not only to levy fines of up to $400 for a first texting offense, but also to double the potential penalty for a second offense, an increase the Senate version did not include.

Because of the differences between the two bills, a third vote to reconcile them will need to take place before the final texting bill is placed on Governor Jim Doyle’s desk. Governor Doyle has already stated that he will sign the bill into law.

Driver distraction, including texting, killed an estimated 6,000 people and injured more than 500,000 in U.S. car crashes in 2008. If the bill becomes law, Wisconsin will become the 20th state to approve a full ban on texting while driving, while nine other states have approved bans for young drivers. In Texas, school bus drivers are not allowed to text while driving.

In addition to public safety, money may also be a contributing factor to the sudden increase in texting bans at the state level. Currently, two federal laws moving through Congress would affect federal highway funding. The first, proposed by New York Senator Charles Schumer, would cost any state that does not ban texting 25 percent of its federal highway funding. A second law winding its way through Congress would act as more of a carrot, in the form of $30 million allotted as grants to states that pass laws intended to limit distractions to drivers.

Regardless of lawmakers’ motivations, the new Wisconsin law may soon find its way to Governor Doyle’s desk. Once signed, the new law would go into effect six months later. Sometime this summer, therefore, drivers will have to put away their cell phones and stop texting, at least until their engines are off.

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