Rell proposes law to ban text messaging while driving

Text messaging while driving may soon be illegal if Gov. M. Jodi Rell has her way.

Rell said Saturday she plans to submit legislation that will expand current law that forbids drivers from talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device to include prohibiting sending text messages as well.

“Over and over again we see entirely preventable crashes caused by inattentive drivers, often because they are distracted by cell phones, text messages or other modern electronic distractions,” Rell said.

Rep. Lawrence G. Miller, R-Stratford, proposed two bills in the past three years banning text messaging while driving, but the Joint Committee on Transportation never moved forward with the proposals.

“Texting and cell phone use are a little different so we need to clarify the law,” Miller said.

Sen. Robert B. Duff, vice-chairman of the transportation committee, said he believes current law covers text messaging but will consider the governor’s proposed legislation and determine if the 2005 law needs to be amended.

“I believe current law covers this. But if it’s something she believes we should hear, I will give it consideration,” the Norwalk Democrat said.

The law concerning mobile telephones from 2005 makes it illegal “to engage in a call” but does not specifically mention text messaging.

Rell said 19 states prohibit text messaging and six states prohibit using hand-held cell phones while driving. AAA supports laws banning drivers from texting, but a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found no reduction in crashes in states with laws that ban hand-held cell phone use.

A federal ban on texting for commercial truck and bus drivers was announced last week by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. In October, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning Federal employees from text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles, when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving or when driving privately owned vehicles when they’re on official government business.

Rell’s proposal also includes no longer giving first-time offenders a break if they purchase a hands-free devise and adds a $500 fine for crashes resulting from the driver using a cell phone. The bill does not explain how it will be proven accidents were a result of texting, but Rell’s spokesman Rich Harris said normal investigation techniques will be used – including witnesses observing the driver texting or an admission of guilt from the driver.

Rell plans to propose the legislation Wednesday to state lawmakers during her last State of the State address.