North Dakota Republican Seeks Fines to Curb Driving While Texting

January 20, 2009

North Dakota Rep. Lawrence Klemin recalls the driver who pulled alongside him at a stoplight recently, eyes down, thumbs frantically working a tiny keyboard that was propped on the steering wheel.

“When the stoplight changed to green, they took off, but they kept on texting while they took off,” he said.

The Bismarck Republican believes texting while driving, or DWT as he calls it, is an increasingly frequent traffic hazard, and he is asking the Legislature to approve specific penalties to deter the practice.

The legislation, which is awaiting its first hearing in the House Transportation Committee, would assess a $100 fine and a two-point driver’s license penalty against any driver caught composing, sending or reading a text message or e-mail on a cell phone, laptop computer or any other wireless device.

Second offenders would get a four-point penalty; drivers who accumulate 12 have their licenses suspended. Subsequent violations would merit a year’s suspension of driving privileges, the legislation says.

“I don’t think text messaging has any place whatsoever in a vehicle while that vehicle is being driven,” Klemin said.

The measure is modeled after a Minnesota texting-while-driving ban that took effect last summer, Klemin said. At present, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington ban text messaging by all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, D.C.

The legislation would not prohibit drivers from talking on their cell phones.

Two years ago, Klemin sponsored legislation to bar drivers younger than 18 from using their cell phones for talking, text messaging or surfing the Internet while they were driving.

It was defeated in the House, with opponents saying teenagers were being unfairly singled out for harsh penalties for talking on cell phones while they were driving. Klemin was unsuccessful in an attempt to broaden the measure to apply it to adults.

Klemin says he views texting while driving as more serious than talking on a cell phone.

“Driving while texting, I think, is probably the most
distracting type of activity that can take place in the vehicle
while it’s being driven,” he said. “Drivers do need to focus on
the device that they’re using … and while they’re doing that,
they take their eyes off the road.”

The bill is HB1208.

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