New year, new distracted driving laws

no text messaging signA handful of distracted driving laws went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, seeking to rein in drivers who yap on cell phones and send text messages while behind the wheel.

The vast majority of distracted driving legislation went nowhere in 2009 — surprising for a year in which so much publicity was generated over the issue — but a handful of states got past the debates and took their safety concerns to the streets.

The focus now moves from the legislatures to the law enforcement agencies, where enforcement could be spotty.

  • In Illinois, text messaging is now illegal for all drivers. Fines are $75. House Bill 72 was signed into law on Aug. 6. The state also banned drivers from using cell phones in school speed zones and construction/road maintenance zones.
  • In New Hampshire, text messaging has been outlawed for all drivers. “It is clear that texting while driving poses a serious danger on our roadways,” Gov. John Lynch said as he approved the anti-texting legislation House Bill 34. Fines are $100.
  • In Kansas, drivers with restricted (learning) licenses cannot use cell phones or texting devices. This is the state’s first restriction on mobile phone use (HB 2143)
  • In Oregon, drivers are not be allowed to text message and cell phone use will be limited to adult motorists using hands-free attachments. Tickets are pegged at $142.

In Canada, two provinces got in line with the nationwide distracted driving trend:

  • In British Columbia, drivers still have a month before getting tickets for using a handheld cell phone or text messaging while driving. After that, the tickets will cost $167.
  • In Saskatchewan, the use of cell phones without a hands-free device or texting will cost drivers $280 and points.

    And a handful of regional bans also swung into action, including:

  • The Big Island of Hawaii has outlawed the use of handheld cell phones while behind the wheel. Violations will cost up to $150. Drivers causing accidents while using a mobile electronic device while driving on the Big Island are subject to $500 fines.
  • Austin has prohibited use of Internet-related activities while driving, such as texting, Tweeting, using iPhone applications and visiting web sites. The ban went into effect Jan. 1, but enforcement begins Feb. 1 in the form of $500 tickets.

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