Anti-texting proposals have advanced across the U.S. this month as lawmakers in several states continue to seek ramped-up fines and stiffened penalties against distractions behind the wheel.
The pieces of legislation follow a steady stream of reports and studies from traffic safety advocates and motoring organizations, including a recent survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showing a “culture of indifference” among drivers who largely agree on the hazards of distracted driving but engage in dangerous habits themselves while behind the wheel.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), all drivers are banned from texting while driving in 39 states and Washington, D.C., but the penalties vary.
Connecticut Seeks Anti-Texting Camera Enforcement
Connecticut lawmakers discussed one of the nation’s harsher plans to fight texting while driving earlier this month, when Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R-Newtown) presented his bill, HB 5550, to the Committee on Transportation.
The legislation looks to penalize repeat violators with a month-long license suspension.
According to the IIHS, all Connecticut drivers are currently prohibited from using hand-held devices and texting while driving. Hands-free devices are prohibited for those younger than 18 years old but permitted for other motorists.
The bill would institute the following penalties in addition to existing fines:
- Two-time offenders would face a two-day license suspension.
- Third-time and subsequent offenders would face a month long driver’s license suspension that would only be restored upon completion of a “retraining” class.
In his testimony offered at a public hearing on Feb. 4, Bolinksy also said he wanted to utilize current “e-enforcement”—like police departments’ vehicle-mounted cameras and the Department of Transportation’s traffic cameras—to obtain time-stamped photos of distracted drivers and their license plates; it is one of the nation’s more comprehensive approaches to an anti-distraction proposal.
“Use and abuse is rampant, with state and local police resources stretched thin,” he said. “I submit that it’s time to ‘think outside the box’ to save lives.”
Bolinsky said that state officials should commission development of an “electronic infrastructure” supporting a mailing system much like ones behind red-light cameras that currently exist in parts of the U.S.
“E-enforcement will mitigate manpower,” he said. “Photographic evidence will fractionalize court challenge.”
In testimony offered at the same hearing, the state Department of Motor Vehicles specifically took issue with Bolinksy’s proposal to suspend the licenses of those who repeatedly break texting-while-driving laws, saying the move would generate a “huge increase in the number of operator suspensions.”
“DMV simply does not have the resources to handle such an impact that would require additional staff and other administrative resources,” the department said in a statement.
Rep. Jason Perillo (R-Shelton) is seeking to raise fine amounts with his sponsored bill, HB 5545:
- First-time violators currently face a $125 fine that the bill would increase to $200
- Two-time violators currently face a $250 fine that the bill would increase to $300
- On third and subsequent violations, offenders currently face a $400 fine that the bill would increase to $500
Dave Williams, Perillo’s legislative aide, told Online Auto Insurance News that HB 5545 was a part of the same public hearing as HB 5550 but testimony had not been publicly posted yet.
Committee members will start voting on legislation in the next few weeks, according to Williams, who added that the bill’s inclusion at the hearing did not guarantee it a vote.
Florida Wants to Join Majority of States with Texting Bans
Florida laws remain some of the loosest against distracted driving in the U.S. According to the IIHS, there are no statewide bans on use of hand-held devices or texting behind the wheel. Florida also allows novice drivers to use cell phones while driving.
Only Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota and South Carolina lack statewide bans on held-held devices and text messaging behind the wheel.
The lack of such prohibitions pushed Reps. Doug Holder and Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) to propose HB 13, a bill that would ban texting while also charging points to licenses of texting drivers who cause crashes. The six-point charge would make such texting violations as punitive as hit-and-runs; collecting a large number of those points can lead to higher insurance rates and long-term license suspension.
HB 13 was filed last December before landing in the Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee a month later.
Its companion bill, SB 52, has made it further in the legislative process after being proposed last November.
SB 52 would bar all motorists from use of any non-hands-free devices while driving. The bill would go into effect on Oct. 1 if passed and proposes the same six-point penalty for texting drivers who cause crashes as HB 13.
Under SB 52, a texting-while-driving offense would be enforced as a secondary violation, meaning that police can cite drivers for it only in addition to another violation.
The bill would also establish the following penalty structure:
- First-time violators face a $30 fine, plus varying municipal court costs
- Two-time offenders who violate the law within five years of the first offense face a $60 fine, plus court costs
Also, the offense is classified as a moving violation that charges three points to a driver’s license.
SB 52 was assigned to the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities on Tuesday after it received unanimous support from the Senate Committee on Transportation on Feb. 6.
In a legislative analysis, Florida officials said that the bill aimed to “improve roadway safety for motor vehicle operators, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians and all other road users” and “reduce injuries, deaths, property damage, health care costs, health insurance and automobile insurance rates related to motor vehicle crashes.”
Virginia Bills Seek Stiffer Fines
Lawmakers are seeking steeper fines for texting violators in Virginia, where all drivers are banned from the practice. The proposals take shape in two bills in both chambers of the state Legislature that seek the same fine structures.
SB 1222 would increase the fines for driving while texting from $20 to $250 for first-time violators and $50 to $500 on second and subsequent offenses. The bill classifies enforcement of the offense as primary, meaning officers can cite a motorist for that violation alone.
SB 1222 also institutes a minimum $500 fine for drivers convicted of reckless driving violations if they were texting at the time of the offense.
State fiscal analysts said they had no estimate of additional revenue from the fines but that monies collected via the legislation would go to the state Literary Fund that supports education-related loans and grants.
SB 1222 was passed by the state Senate by a 24-15 vote earlier this month, before entering the House Committee for Courts of Justice on Monday. There, the bill received a unanimous recommendation Wednesday from the House Criminal Subcommittee.
HB 1907 would establish similar fines and penalties for texting while driving. The bill was unanimously recommended Wednesday out of the Senate Committee on Transportation and is currently in the state Senate Courts of Justice Committee. It passed the entire state House on Feb. 5 by a 92-4 vote.
In Arizona, New Drivers Face Restrictions on Device Usage
Arizona is one of six states to not have a statewide law banning all drivers from texting while driving, according to the IIHS.
But SB 1241 would change that, prohibiting the state’s newest drivers from using wireless communication devices behind the wheel. Under the bill, motorists with novice licenses face usage restrictions on mobile devices.
Class G licensees, who must have their learner’s permits for at least six months before being granted restricted privileges like nighttime driving only when accompanied with an adult, would be fined if they are found using a mobile device while driving within the first six months of licensure and extend the restrictions. The fines under the bill are as follows:
- A maximum $75 fine for first-time violators and month long extension of restrictions.
- A maximum $100 fine for two-time violators and 60-day extension of restrictions
- A maximum $100 fine on third and subsequent violations along with a month long license suspension
The violation would be enforced as a secondary offense under the bill, which would become effective July 1, 2014, if passed.
SB 1241 was recommended by a 3-1 vote in the Committee on Public Safety on Wednesday. The bill is still under consideration in other Senate bodies, including the Committee on Transportation, where it is on the agenda for the Feb. 19 meeting.
Insurance Implications of Texting While Driving
Based on a quote comparison of car insurance rates, OnlineAutoInsurance.com conducted an analysis of the premium impact that a texting-while-driving citation can have in New York, which adds points to a license for texting violations.
According to the analysis, we found that insurance providers can view texting-related violations as a valid reason to pump up the prices they offer, though they didn’t always do so:
- At one insurer, a texting ticket increased insurance rates by 10.5 percent overall.
- At the second insurer, a texting ticket increased insurance rates by 9.1 percent overall.
- At the third insurer, a texting violation did not show any impact on insurance quotes.