January 26, 2011


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

We’ve all seen the culprits. They are driving down the street or down the highway texting on their cell phones with the cell phone either cradled between their hands and the steering wheel or in their laps.
Some say that the ability to text while driving is just another technological advance that allows cell phone users to stay in touch with friends or business associates. Others call it downright ridiculous. While others call it a true danger to not only the driver, but to everyone else sharing the roadway.
And everyone is right. Technology, including using cell phones for everything from making calls to texting and surfing the net, has allowed everyone to stay in contact with other people no matter where we are. But using that “always on” technology can pose serious dangers, especially when they are used by drivers of motor vehicles.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2008, 20 percent of all car accidents were the result of drivers paying attention to something other than driving and 6,000 people were killed in crashes caused by distracted motorists.
Obviously, texting or surfing the Internet on a cell phone is not the only thing that can distract a driver. Most of us have also seen drivers who are not giving their undivided attention to their driving responsibilities while they are eating, reading a book, grooming themselves or struggling with an infant in the backseat.
But for whatever reason, texting while driving seems to be one of the biggest distractions a driver of a vehicle can do. Why is that? Because for all the things that a human brain can do, multi-tasking while driving and texting is not one of them.
A study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute using long-haul truck drivers concluded that when motorists texted while driving, their collision risk was 23 times greater. And researchers have also found that actively texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds. At 55 mph, these drivers will travel the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road.
Sounds dangerous. It is.
Which is why it is time for the North Dakota Legislature to follow the lead of two North Dakota cities, Grand Forks and Bismarck, as well as 30 other states which have already created laws banning texting and driving.
And now for the third time, a bill has been introduced into the North Dakota House of Representatives that would ban drivers from writing, reading or sending messages on any wireless device.
House Bill 1195, introduced by Rep. Lawrence Kelmin from Bismarck, would ban using mobile Internet, but not talking on a phone. The proposed law calls for fines of $100 and a 2-point license penalty for first-time offenders. Subsequent violations would be subject to a 4-point penalty.
And according to two recent polls, North Dakotans as well as members of the North Dakota Legislature appear to be supportive of the ban this time around. The North Dakota Poll, which polls the readership of 11 community newspapers in North Dakota (including the McKenzie County Farmer) found that 92 percent of those responding to the poll indicated they would favor pending legislation that would make it illegal in North Dakota to text while you drive. And in a December Associated Press survey of the members of the North Dakota Legislature, of the 76 House members who responded to the survey, 50 backed a texting bill while eight others opposed the ban. And of the 38 Senators who replied, 28 were in support of a texting ban and six were opposed.
The time is right for the North Dakota Legislature to move forward and enact a law banning texting while driving in North Dakota.