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Published January 28 2011

Texting bill in committee: Measure bans electronic messaging while driving

BISMARCK – Texting while driving is a serious danger, and North Dakota needs a uniform law that applies statewide, a Bismarck lawmaker said Thursday.

House Bill 1195 would ban drivers from using wireless communication devices to compose, read or send electronic messages. This includes checking e-mail, texting, instant messaging and using the Internet.

The bill has exceptions for talking on the phone or operating a global positioning system device. The proposed law would not apply in emergency situations.

Bill sponsor Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said North Dakota can no longer ignore this issue.

“I think that the overwhelming majority of the people of North Dakota agree,” he told the House Transportation Committee. “This committee has the opportunity and the duty to make our roads safer for all of us.”

Klemin pointed to various statistics to support his bill, including data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A report found the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event is 23.2 times greater for drivers who text while driving than for those who do not.

A September 2010 Highway Loss Data Institute report states 30 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning all motorists from texting while driving.

The report found, “In none of the four states where texting bans could be studied was there a reduction in crashes … If the goal of texting and cell phone bans is the reduction of crash risk, then the bans have so far been ineffective.”

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, questioned whether law enforcement was now using reckless or careless driving laws that already exist.

Kelsch also took issue with Klemin saying the law would help parents enforce restrictions on their student drivers.

“We have to make laws here as legislators so that parents have guidance. I guess I have a bit of a problem with that,” she said.

Legislators also brought up concerns of whether a texting-while-driving ban would just make drivers lower their phones.

Bismarck and Grand Forks now have texting bans. Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm supports a statewide ban.

“I believe that this bill is a legitimate government restriction that’s aimed both at what is a substantial driver distraction and aimed at making our roads safer,” he said.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol is neutral on the bill, Lt. Jody Skogen said. No one testified against it.

The committee did not take immediate action on the proposal.

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Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.