"While there are many sources of driver distraction, there is heightened concern regarding the risks of texting-while-driving," the sample law said. "The act of composing, sending or reading text messages interrupts drivers' cognitive attention, causes vision to be directed away from the road, and compromises manual control of the vehicle."
As part of its effort to combat distracted driving, the DOT hopes the sample language will provide states with a starting point for enacting laws addressing cell phone use and/or texting while driving.
As of the end of 2009, 19 states and the District of Columbia had laws banning texting while driving. The DOT hopes the sample law will encourage states to take action on the issue, given the attention the issue has been getting.
"This partnership should make it easier for the 31 states that have not already banned texting behind the wheel to get their acts together and get on board," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his official blog.
According to LaHood, the DOT worked with safety organizations to craft the language of the sample bill, including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, AAA, Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Safety Council, to name a few. The agency has also made the move with the support of the wireless and automobile industries, he said.
The sample law basically bans texting while operating a motor vehicle on the travel portion of public streets, roads and highways. The sample law would not apply to law enforcement, fire service or emergency medical services professionals. It would also not be enforced when reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement or when receiving messages related to the operation or navigation of a motor vehicle, safety-related information, or data used primarily by the motor vehicle. It would not be applied to radio or the use of a device or system for navigation purposes. Other wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry would also be exempt.
On the first offense, drivers would be subject to a minimum fine of $75 and action against driving privileges. For a subsequent offense, the sample bill says penalties should rise in accordance with the state's motor vehicle and traffic laws. If an offense results in death or injury, the violation should increase to a felony.
The language of the sample bill is based on current circumstances, so it may be "revised in the future to incorporate new research findings, address evolving technologies, or to harmonize with other legislation."
To access the sample bill, click here.