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Texting ban soon to become law

February 4, 2010

In late January a bill passed the Wisconsin legislature prohibiting motorists from typing on their cell phones or computers while they are behind the wheel of a car in the state of Wisconsin.

The vote was passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan 89-6 vote, making Wisconsin the 20th state in the United States banning text messaging while driving. In 2008, nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured in motor vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction, including texting, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Web site.

“It’s scary to think that so many people have died due to driver distraction,” said fourth-year student Hollie Wills.

There are two different versions of this bill: one which was passed by the Senate in October of 2009, and the more recent version which was passed by the Assembly. The Senate version varies from the Assembly version in a few notable ways in regards to the fine amount for offenses of the law as well as the state of the vehicle the motorist is in. 

The original version passed by the Senate would have second offenses to the law maxed at a $400 fine, as opposed to the Assembly version, which could have potential fines up to $800. This can create a serious problem for students who often may not be able to afford to pay such high fines upon violation of the law.

“I do think the fines are fairly reasonable considering you can get your license taken away for drunk driving which is pretty similar,” said fourth-year student Jason Hinrichs.

The other notable difference relates to whether the vehicle is turned on or not. Under the Assembly version, motorists would be allowed to text on their phones if their car is stopped. The Senate version of the bill does not allow motorists to be texting on their phones whether the vehicle is stopped or moving.

The Assembly bill also provides an exception for drivers using global positioning devices and text-messaging in cars with new technology using voice recognition equipment.

The Senate bill originally applied to every motorist on the road and was then amended to be for drivers only 18 years old and under. Upon reaching the Senate, the bill was amended again, and the final bill now applies to all drivers regardless of age.

Neither version of the bill restricts motorists from making voice calls while driving.

The differences between the two houses will have to be resolved and must pass another vote on the bill before it can be sent to Gov. Jim Doyle, who supports the ban. If the bill is signed by the governor, it would take action seven months from the signing.

Texting while driving became a petty misdemeanor in the state of Minnesota on August 1, 2008, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed it into law. The terms of that law only ban text messaging, not use of phones for voice calls or the use of GPS.