The American Trucking Associations (ATA) strongly supports safety objectives in new legislation that encourages states to ban texting while operating a motor vehicle.
Introduced July 29 by US Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Kay Hagan (D-NC), the “Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting (ALERT) by Drivers Act of 2009” would create federal funding penalties for states that fail to make texting while driving illegal.
The bill requires all states within two years of the bill’s passage to ban writing, sending, or reading text messages using a hand-held mobile telephone or other portable electronic communication device. States that do not comply with the legislation risk losing 25% of their annual federal highway funding.
Eliminating the distraction caused by operating cell phones for texting, or other texting devices, while driving will improve highway safety. ATA’s safety agenda recommends that drivers and motor carriers consider policies that would minimize or eliminate driver distraction caused by using electronic devices while operating any type of motor vehicle. Electronic communication devices hinder driver performance by taking a driver’s eyes off the road. Drivers may also become so absorbed in their text message that their ability to concentrate on driving is impaired.
While ATA supports objectives of the proposed legislation, it will work to ensure the bill does not inadvertently require states to outlaw use of truck cab fleet management systems that provide limited but necessary cargo-related information to professional drivers.
Text messaging while driving is already illegal in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and the District of Columbia. In these states, police can stop a driver for texting while driving and ticket the driver. Text messaging while driving is also illegal in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, and Louisiana, but police cannot ticket a driver in these states for the offense unless the driver has been stopped for another traffic offense. Six additional states have legislation in place that will prohibit text messaging while driving by January 2010.