July 29th, 2009
01:54 PM ET
5 years ago

Senators push nationwide ban on texting while driving

Four senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban texting while driving.
Four senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban texting while driving.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Four senators pushed for a bill Wednesday to ban texting while driving, a day after a study found that drivers who text while on the road are much more likely to have an accident than an undistracted driver.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York; Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey; Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana; and Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, unveiled the ALERT Act, which would ban truck and car drivers and operators of mass transit from texting while driving.

The proposed legislation would prohibit any driver from sending text or e-mail messages while driving a vehicle, said an earlier news release from the senators. If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation would set the minimum standards for compliance.

States that do not enact text-banning laws within two years of the bill's passage could lose 25 percent of their federal highway funds, Schumer said in a news conference announcing the legislation. The non-compliant states could recuperate that money once they meet the text-banning standards, Schumer added.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws barring texting while driving, which include the home states of three of the bill's sponsors: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

New York does not have a ban against texting, but has barred using handheld phones while driving, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association. Schumer said New York's legislature has sent Gov. David Paterson a bill to ban texting as well.

"The legislation will send an important message to drivers across the country: Get your hands off the cell phone and back on the wheel," Schumer said.

The senators cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that found that truck drivers who texted while driving were 23 times more likely to crash or get into a near-wreck than undistracted drivers.

When compared to dialing, talking, listening or reaching for an electronic device, texting posed the greatest accident risk, the study found, attributing it to the almost five seconds they found the driver's eyes were off the roadway while texting, said Rich Hanowski, the director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the transportation institute.

"Not having [a cell phone] in your hand while driving could be the difference between life and death," said Menendez.

In September, a commuter train engineer missed a stop signal while trading text messages with a friend, leading to a collision with a freight train that killed 25 people in California, according to federal investigators. The accident injured 101 people.

A mass-transit accident injured 62 people in May when two trains collided in Boston, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said. The operator of the trolley was charged in July for gross negligence after he admitted to texting seconds before his collision with another trolley, according to the Suffolk County district attorney and a National Transportation Safety Board official.

–CNN Radio's John Lisk contributed to this report.


Filed under: Kay Hagan • Mary Landrieu • Robert Menendez
soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Jay

    Texting and cell phone use without a hands-free set should have been deemed illegal eons ago.

    July 29, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  2. Larry

    I can't imagine why this is even considered a debate. When people are walking into poles and falling in uncovered manholes as well as being hit by cars while they are crossing the street and texting, who in their right mind would want to allow anyone to drive a car and text?

    July 29, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  3. yuri

    And let's see some senatorial settin' of examples, as to the "text and do not drive" message to the public.

    July 29, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  4. Active Duty Democrat

    Surely we can focus on more important matters...

    July 29, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  5. Sara

    Great. Now do something important.

    July 29, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. magella

    Who could possibly oppose this?!

    July 29, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  7. Kelby In Houston, TX

    NOBODY CARES ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW!!!
    IT'S TIME TO PASS HEALTHCARE REFORM!!!
    The People want healthcare reform.
    If you fail to produce healthcare reform, We, The People, will replace you.

    July 29, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  8. Fla.

    Great idea. This safety legislation should have agreement on both sides.

    July 29, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  9. Johnny DC

    Long overdue bill. If they really want to be thorough, they should ban emailing as well.

    Sounds to me like Congress is again behind the times, and will probably pass this without a clause regarding people using Blackberry or iPhones for emailing while driving, which is twice as bad and probably similarly frequent.

    July 29, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  10. Chris

    The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study shows that texting while driving potentially as dangerous as drunk driving, which carries severe criminal penalties. If this is true, I think we should make texting while driving a criminal offense, with the same penalties as drunk driving. That way, there would be consistent penalties for irresponsible drivers.

    July 29, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  11. mmm & mmm

    I ride a motorcycle most of the time (hard to text and do that :)

    i have the viewpoint that most don't and am able to easily see in vehicle. It amazes me the number of drivers who have a device in their hand.

    it DOES NOT amaze me that the ones that change lanes with no signals, brake for no reason and don't accelerate back to speed 40% slower than the rest of traffic are the ones with phones.

    PLEASE PLEASE stop and think before you touch the device next time "could this be the time I make a mistake and kill someone"? "Is it worth it"?

    July 29, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  12. Frank

    Finally, something Congress is doing that we can be happy about. Should extend the ban to talking on the phone while driving as well. Some states have such a ban, but some are a little lagging...

    July 29, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  13. Larry

    Texting while driving–how stupid does it get.

    I think talking on a cell phone while driving should be banned. You're piloting a 2-ton hunk of steel, concentrate on your driving.

    July 29, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  14. B

    It’s about time.... That would probably save a few thousand lives a year!

    July 29, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  15. allen

    Great idea... practically speaking waste of time. How many people drive while using a cell-phone? How many people drive at speeds exceeding the speed limit? How many drivers don't wear seat belts?

    This law is only designed to make the lawmakers pushing for the bill look good in that they look like they are doing everything they can in order to protect the average citizen.

    Why don't our lawmakers focus on something else that is more important and has a greater impact like Health Care, Education, the Economy, and the War in Iraq?

    July 29, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  16. Peter

    We do need this, it will make the road a lot safer and probably lower the amount of accidents caused by teen drivers...

    July 29, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  17. Jim in Fllorida

    As a Republican I'd like to see some Republicans co-sponsor this legislation. Look, I am a 50-plus "tekkie" and don't even consider texting while driving. It's destructive behavior, much like drinking and driving – the act impairs the driver.

    This is not a question of "government control" – if we as individuals engage in behavior that threatens not only our life but the lives of others – if we cannot exercise the responsibilities that come with freedom in a democracy, then it is time for government to step in and at least try to save us from ourselves. .

    I sure hope the legislation passes, they should add all but hands free mobile phone use too. Think of the money saved – auto insurance and rates, medical bills, funeral expenses, etc. ROI is good on this one.

    July 29, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    It would be nice if these laws led to more roadside pull-outs. Obviously it's not ridiculous to ban people from texting while driving–this is really unsafe–but if this leads to bans on the use of all phones while driving, they're really asking an unreasonable thing of people if there aren't adequate places to pull over on these roads.

    July 29, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  19. Ted

    Not only ban texting, ban cell phone use. Both are the same as they both distract attention from driving. Cell phone use is banned within the city of Chicago and all of New York STate. When you see a guy driving a 80,000 pound 18-wheeler and he is talking on the cell phone, it gives you pause. Both hands should be on the wheel. Eyes on the road and ears open for danger.

    July 29, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  20. Ross

    How would they ever enforce such a policy? It would be very difficult to discern if someone was actually texting while driving unless they admitted to doing so.

    July 29, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  21. stee

    This is ridiculous. First, this should be a state issue, not a federal issue. Second, I believe most states already have driving-while-distracted or driving-to-endanger laws. It seems texting while driving would fall under either of those laws.

    July 29, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  22. Clay

    Gee...it's taken this long for you idiots to figure out this no-brainer...

    July 29, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  23. rmanis

    I think there should be a ban on texting and talking on a cell phone while driving. Study after study has proven that texting and talking on a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. I also feel that Congress should call on cell phone companies- manufactures and service provders- to eliminate altogether the technologies which make this possible in the first place. If a driver absolutley needs to talk or text the driver should pull over.

    July 29, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  24. rob

    As a motorcycle rider, I am all for the ban. After being rear-ended by a texting twit while sitting at a light in my truck, I wouldn't be typing this if I was on the bike.

    July 29, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  25. Steve Boston

    Why are we stopping at banning texting while driving? I am constantly dodging people not paying attention to their driving while on cell phones, reading a paper, putting on makeup.....

    If people would use common sense this would not be an issue, something needs to be done.

    July 29, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
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