In an effort to lower the number of accidents and fatalities on Wisconsin roads, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a law Wednesday that will prohibit text messaging while driving.
Effective Dec. 1, 2010, the law will penalize those caught either texting or e-mailing while driving with a fine between $20 and $400. Wisconsin is the 24th state, including Washington D.C., to enact similar legislation.
“It is a situation in which technology moves beyond the laws of the state and this is a law that has us catch up with technology,” Doyle said upon signing the bill.
Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, said it took three years and a lot of work to pass the bill. Texting is an absolute distraction and the new law will let people know specifically that they cannot do it while driving anymore, Lasee said.
The United States House of Representatives named April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Andy Franken, president of Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, said it was a very appropriate time to pass the bill.
“All distractions need to be addressed, it’s just not appropriate to take your eyes off the road. In addition, texting is an increasing component of distraction; this law will encourage people to pay more attention to the road,” Franken said.
Beth Mosher, AAA Wisconsin spokesperson, had similar views, calling the bill a “great victory.” About 25 percent of all crashes are due to some kind of distraction, and texting while driving is one of the biggest distractions there is, Mosher said.
The bill did not receive unanimous support, however.
Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said the bill does nothing the inattentive driving law does not already do.
“If they were serious about inattentive driving, they would raise the fines for that crime. The low fines and a slap on the wrist from the texting law won’t change much. I believe we should be teaching youth about the dangers of distraction and having drivers take personal responsibility for inattentive driving,” Davis said.
Davis also mentioned the level of difficulty in enforcing this law. Questions arise as to whether law enforcement would be able to seize a driver’s phone to confirm the driver was indeed texting and not doing something else, like making a phone call.
Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, shared similar views, expressing his concern of how law enforcement will be able to tell whether a driver is texting or not.
“It is a well intended bill that unfortunately has little means to enforce it,” Kedzie said.
Although Lasee supports the bill, he agreed the bill will be rather difficult to enforce.
“Wisconsin citizens are very law-abiding, the fact that this is now a law will hopefully turn people away from texting while driving. Drivers will know specifically that texting while driving a vehicle is against the law. It’s a step in the right direction to removing drivers from all distractions,” Lasee said.