Wis. Senate passes texting ban for all drivers
By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — All Wisconsin drivers, not just teenagers, would be banned from sending text messages while driving under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday.
Lawmakers approved a bill 27-5 that would prohibit drivers from using a text message device such as a cell phone, I-Phone, or Blackberry. The penalties would be between $20 and $400, the same as disorderly driving.
The ban passed after lawmakers balked at the initial proposal affecting only drivers under age 18. Some senators said if texting were dangerous for young drivers, it was dangerous for all motorists.
"Why are we resistant to protect all of the population regardless of their age?“ asked Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah. A similar proposal in the Assembly has been introduced but not yet heard in committee.
Opponents argued that texting, just like putting on makeup or searching for loose change, is already covered under the state’s disorderly driving law. It will also be nearly impossible for a police officer to determine if someone is texting, said Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn.
'There’s a limit as to how many laws you need before we have laws on the books that are unenforceable," he said.
Supporters said a law would get the public’s attention.
"We all know that texting while driving is dangerous behavior," said Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona. "But if it’s illegal, most of us will change our behavior."
The Senate’s vote comes as momentum increases nationwide to address the problem of distracted driving.
The first laws banning text messaging while driving passed in New Jersey and Washington in 2007. Since then, nine states have passed laws banning texting for young drivers and 19 states have banned it for everyone, regardless of age, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
States might be feeling pressure from Congress to act as well. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle — or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.
Those who are pushing the laws say it’s all about safety.
Nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction, including texting, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In July, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater. Dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device increased risk of collision about six times in cars and trucks, according to the university research.
The sponsor of the Wisconsin bill, Sen. Alan Lasee, R-DePere, said he was motivated to introduce his proposal after a 2006 car crash in New York that killed five recent high school graduates. Police didn’t blame cell phone use for the wreck, but records showed a succession of calls and text messages on the driver’s phone minutes before the crash.
"I think this will certainly go a long way to saving innocent lives," Lasee said.
Emergency responders, as well as licensed amateur radio operators and those texting to report an emergency, would be exempt.
This is the second time in as many years that the state Senate has passed a texting ban. Last year, the Senate passed a ban for all drivers but it died in the Assembly.
This year’s bill has broad support including the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, which represents some wireless networks in the state, AAA Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
No one was registered in opposition.
All senators voted for it except Kedzie; Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend; Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin; Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan; and Jeff Plale, D-Milwaukee.