A motorist has no business driving and typing at the same time, and it's only common sense for the General Assembly to nip in the bud the increasingly popular pastime of texting while behind the wheel of a vehicle.
State Reps. Allen Peake, R-Macon, and Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, are proposing legislation that would outlaw texting while driving, bringing Georgia in line with 19 other states that already see the wisdom in separating writing -- even the poorly worded type -- from driving. Currently, only school bus drivers are denied the privilege of texting while on Georgia roadways, and then only if they have passengers on the bus.
Amerson's two bills, House Bill 944 and HB 945, each would revise a code section of Georgia law to prohibit drivers from texting and e-mailing from cell phones, personal digital assistants and similar wireless devices. A motorist found in violation would face a $300 fine.
Peake's bill, HB 938, would fine a driver who is caught sending text messages $100 and also cost the motorist two points on his or her driver's license. If a texting driver is at fault in an accident, the fine doubles and the driver's license would be suspended.
The texting legislation was sent to a study committee Wednesday.
Also awaiting action in the Senate is HB 23, which passed the House in the 2009 session but then became stalled after a second reading in the Senate in March. That bill by Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, would prohibit drivers under 18 from using wireless devices, such as cell phones, and texting devices, such as cells and PDAs. The fine for a violation would be $100 plus possible driver's license suspension, with the suspension being mandatory along with a doubled fine if the driver is using such a device and causes an accident.
The Legislature shouldn't delay passing either Amerson's or Peake's proposal, and the Senate needs to endorse Ramsey's bill that would impose stricter rules on the state's most inexperienced drivers.
Driving is serious business, an activity that -- because it is so common -- is viewed far too casually by the public. A car or truck moving down the road at 70 mph or even 55 mph becomes a deadly missile when a driver does not pay attention to what is going on.
A study published last month based on research by University of Utah psychologists concluded that texting while driving is more distracting than driving while talking on a cell phone or while talking to a passenger. Drivers' median reaction times in the study were 30 percent longer when they were for reading texts and 9 percent longer when they were for talking on a cell phone, compared to their reaction times when they were only driving.
Researchers found that texting causes a driver to completely shift attention from the task of driving to the task of texting, while that driver will attempt to split attention and make adjustments to the tasks of driving and conversing when talking on a cell phone.
In either case, that extra reaction time can be the difference between life and death.
None of these bills will eradicate the problem of distracted driving. As Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Bill Hutchins said in news reports recently, a motorist can travel at 100 mph on an interstate highway as long as a law enforcement officer doesn't spot the vehicle.
But the possibility that being caught can cost a driver money and points on his or her driver's license will at least give that driver something to think about. And like seat belts, the threat of punishment would encourage them to do the right thing on Georgia's roads.
That would keep the streets safer for everyone.
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