Wisconsin is now the 30th state in the country – in addition to Washington DC and Guam – to ban texting while driving. Wisconsin’s new primary law, which went into effect today, carries fines between $20 and $400 for drivers found text messaging behind the wheel.
Such laws are controversial. Law enforcement officials say they are difficult to enforce. Critics contend that politicians refuse to confront the core issue in Distracted Driving.
Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones. The issue is not the type of phone a driver uses, rather it is the distraction caused by the conversation. In spite of auto industry assertions, the fact is that hands-free devices do not make cell phones any safer. Several studies indicate that the principle risk is the cognitive distraction of anything that diverts attention while driving.
Studies also show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater crash risk – essentially the equivalent of drunken driving.
More than 20% of all crashes a year now involve some type of distraction. That’s the reason the National Safety Council urged a total ban on using cell phones while driving last year after conducting research that confirmed previous studies on just how dangerous cell phones are.
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating regulations concerning distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries, according to the agency.