Texting, driving can result in fines

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New state law became effective Jan. 1

By Kristin Sherrard

Landmark News Service
Texting and driving? You may want to pull over.
On Jan. 1, a state law went into effect to help Kentucky law enforcement officials reduce the dangerous problem of “distracted driving.”
Anyone caught texting while driving will face a $25 fine for the first offense, plus court costs. Subsequent offenses carry a $50 fine, plus court costs.
The law also prohibits anyone younger than 18 from using a cell phone, even just to talk, while driving a vehicle. The same fines apply to violators.
In Trimble County, sheriff’s deputies already have noticed fewer drivers texting while on local roads.
“We’ve not seen anybody [texting and driving] since the first of the year,” Chief Deputy Rich Knighten said Tuesday. “Before the first of the year, we noticed it was quite common.”
Safety is the main issue, Gov. Steve Beshear said in a recent news release. “I am convinced that this new law, which many people worked with us to pass, will reduce crashes and fatalities on Kentucky roadways.”
In Kentucky last year, more than 57,000 crashes – and more than 200 fatalities – were attributed to driver distraction, inattention and cell-phone use, according to Beshear’s release.
Lt. David Jude, commander of the Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Branch, said the intent of the new law is to direct the drivers’ focus back on the road and away from electronic device.
“Texting or using a cell phone takes the drivers’ focus off the road,” he said in a news release. “For instance, every second that you take your eyes off the road when your speed is 70 mph, your vehicle travels 102 feet.”
Carrollton Police Assistant Chief Steve Abbott said he thinks the law eventually will lower the number of accidents caused by texting while driving.
“I do think it is a problem, especially with the under 18-year-olds,” he said. “We want people to be focused on the road and not on the phone. It’s a safety issue.”
Knighten agreed that the problem, mostly, is associated with younger drivers, who don’t always consider the dangers of using electronic devices while driving.
When Beshear signed House Bill 415 into law on April 15, Kentucky became the 22nd state in the nation to ban texting while driving. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers.
Knighten said in some states, the laws even restrict drivers of all ages to talk on cell phones while operating a vehicle. Many states, he said, require the use of “hands free” devices.
Abbott acknowledges that the law may be difficult to enforce, but said officers will be vigilant, watching for people texting while driving, and especially watching for young people texting and talking on cell phones.
“A text message or cell phone call can wait. ... The safety of you, your family and other motorists on the road is much more important.”

Specifics of the
Kentucky texting law

Kentucky’s law, specifically, bans drivers 18 and older from texting, using global positioning devices (GPS), and reading, selecting or entering a telephone number or name for the purpose of making a phone call while the vehicle is in motion.
Texting is allowed only to report illegal activity or to request medical or emergency aid.
Drivers younger than 18 amy not use any of personal communication devices, such as cell phones or pagers, while the vehicle is in motion. Using a GPS device is allowed, but manually entering information must be completed while the vehicle is stopped.
Emergency and public safety vehicles are exempt when the use of a personal communication device is essential to the operator’s official duties.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has kicked of its “Put it Down” campaign to help end distracted driving behaviors.
According to USDOT’s web site, Distraction.gov/stats-and-facts/index.html, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to be involved in crashes that cause injury. Even using hands-free devices can delay a driver’s reaction time by the same amount as a driver with 0.08 blood alcohol concentration.
AT&T, a national carrier of cell-phone services, also is stepping up its efforts to educate customers. The company has posted on its website a 10-minute documentary called “The Last Text” as a part of their “It Can Wait” campaign.
The documentary features stories of people whose lives have been adversely affected by texting behind the wheel. The link to the video is available on The Trimble Banner website.

Trimble Banner editor Phyllis McLaughlin contributed to this report.