Serious safety issue PDF E-mail

Texting and driving don’t mix.

You know it. I know it. Young drivers should know it too, though some seem oblivious to the notion.

Law enforcement personnel know it all too well, unfortunately, but they are currently handcuffed in their ability to cite violators for putting themselves and others at risk by focusing on their phones rather than the task at hand -- driving.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff has been on a mission to address this issue and his priority bill this year (LB 807)  would take a giant step forward in that regard.

Harms proposed LB 945 in 2010, a measure which made texting while driving illegal. It passed, though its impact has been limited by a provision that said law enforcement could only cite violators if they were pulled over for another reason.

Violators have been fined $200 for the first offense, $300 for the second and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses.

Four years later, Harms suggests it is time to put more teeth in the law by making it a primary offense, and we agree.

The research on this issue is stunning. Sending and receiving text messages takes drivers’ eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field. If you are on the road much at all, you can see this problem with your own eyes on the streets here in Aurora as well as up and down Interstate 80.

There seems very little reason not to make this change, though Sen. Annette Dubas, who chairs the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee which will decide whether or not to advance this bill, says it has “an uphill climb.”

“The majority of the committee isn’t looking favorably on this bill due to a concern with enforcement,” she said in a town hall meeting last week in Aurora.

That’s discouraging to hear, frankly, because other states are reporting that enforcement is not apparently a problem. Officers who suspect a driver is texting can use phone records to help determine if a violation was made, which is perhaps one reason why all but four states in America now consider texting while driving a primary offense.

It’s time for Nebraska to upgrade its tech-related approach to driving safety. Our state’s highways and byways would be safer if fewer people were so tempted to send text messages while driving, and this bill would help heighten public awareness of a dangerous situation by giving consequences to those who do.

Kurt Johnson

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