As April draws to a close, we remind our clients, friends and family to avoid distracted driving by keeping your mind and hands on your driving. April is designated as the month dedicated to prevention of Distracted Driving, including texting, changing the radio station, talking on your phone, playing with your iPad or iPod, or any other activity which distracts you from your driving. As attorneys who practice personal injury, this issue hits close to home. Every day we see traumatic accidents all over the nation caused by distracted driving. This is an issue that draws attention in our schools, our work, our homes, and our legislature.
Nebraska has addressed the issue of distracted driving by making texting while driving and failure to wear seatbelt infractions secondary offenses. This means that you cannot be ticketed for either offense unless you are stopped by law enforcement for another reason. The current law on texting and driving was passed by the unicameral in 2010 and was amended so the $200.00 fine could only be issued as a secondary offense. Unfortunately, this led to only 234 citations in 2011 and 2012, hardly an effective argument for deterring cell phone usage while driving. The most likely reason for this low number of convictions is the fact that it is only a secondary offense.
However, in this latest legislative session, Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff introduced the Nebraska Roadway Safety Act, LB807, a bill aimed at making our roads safer, including a provision which would have made texting while driving a primary offense. Wearing a seatbelt would also be a primary offense. The bill also proposes no cell phone use by bus drivers while a bus is in motion unless communicating with dispatch. At the end of the legislative session, this bill was indefinitely postponed.
Meanwhile, Iowa is also making deterring distracted driving a priority. In late March, the Iowa Senate voted 27-22 in favor of an appropriations bill setting aside $200,000.00 to be used in an educational campaign regarding the risks of distracted driving. This bill will now go to the Iowa House, where legislation to specifically crack down on the problem of texting and driving has stalled. There has been a dispute as to which department’s budget will provide funding for the appropriations bill.
Texting and driving is still a crucial part of improving roadway safety and accident prevention. Although texting and driving is often the distraction that is focused on in legislation and in the public, other activities which can move your attention away from the task of operating your motor vehicle safely should be avoided or delayed until you can perform the task safely.