As the fatalities caused by distracted driving pile up, an appropriate regulatory response generates ongoing debate. Cellular-news, an online publisher since 1998 of news on the mobile/cellular industry, —www.cellular-news.com— as of May 2007 reports that 47 countries have banned cell phones when driving unless used with a hands-free kit, 2 have partial bans, and 2 more are debating proposed legislation.
Canada is uniquely described as “variable” noting the ban in Newfoundland. (An Ontario bill banning such activities has been stalled in the legislature since 1999.) The same report says that five states in the US also have bans, 14 have partial bans and six, including the US federal government, are still studying the problem or debating proposed legislation.
The increasing number of injuries and fatalities caused by “driving while texting” are motivating some politicians to go one step further. In early May 2007, Washington State Governor, Chris Gregoire, signed into law, two bills—Senate Bill 5037: “A person operating a moving motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction”; and House Bill 1214: “A person operating a moving motor vehicle while reading, manually writing or sending a message on an electronic wireless device is guilty of a traffic infraction.” Thereby, Washington State became the first state to specifically target driving while texting. The penalty is a $101 ticket. The text-messaging ban takes effect January 1; 2008; the cell-phone law in July 2008. Drivers are exempt in some situations, including emergencies, and neither offense, by itself, will be enough to get a driver pulled over by the police. As one Seattle newspaper described it: “You need to be caught doing something worse, like swerving across the center line…”.
Similar bans on texting while driving are pending in New Jersey, California, and Oregon. In mid-July 2007, New York State Senator, Carl Marcellino, announced a bill imposing a $100 fine on typing, sending, or reading text messages while behind the wheel. This Bill amends the current New York state law prohibiting talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. The Senator also introduced another bill —approved in the Senate and pending in the assembly — that would prohibit car manufacturers from installing television sets in dashboards (not including global positioning satellite screens). “The issue is distracted driving,” Senator Marcellino said, “We understand these won’t be the easiest things to enforce, but we also understand that just by virtue of knowing that something is against the law, most people will avoid doing it.”
Of course not everyone is in favor of such legislation. The cell phone industry says educating people is better than enacting new laws. John Walls, vice president of CTIA—the Wireless Association queried whether, “a law that is very difficult to enforce and puts the onus on officers… really gets to the crux of the problem?”
Another point worth repeating is that just about every country with motor vehicles on its roadways has some sort of ban against “driving without due care and attention”. This already covers the whole issue.