Archive for Saturday, September 19, 2009

States send mixed message on texting and driving

September 19, 2009


'Use common sense'

Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Turnpike Authority both send text messages to subscribers seeking information about accidents and other conditions that could affect traffic flow and safety.

And while Kansas doesn’t ban drivers from sending, receiving or reading text messages while driving, officials with KDOT and the turnpike authority encourage drivers to take special care when consuming such information.

Best case: Check for texts as you leave home, the office or anywhere else before hitting the road, they say. Or, if you’re driving, pull over to check updates.

“We obviously don’t encourage our people to read them while they’re driving, particularly at a high rate of speed,” said Lisa Callahan, a spokeswoman for the turnpike authority, which sends texts to 500 people who subscribe to the service. “People want information, and they just have to use common sense about checking the information that’s being sent.”

Fiddling with your iPhone behind the wheel can get you fined across much of the nation. But many states are more than happy to tweet you with up-to-the-minute directions on how to steer clear of a traffic jam.

It is a mixed signal that some safety experts and politicians say could be dangerous.

At least 22 states that ban texting while driving offer some type of service that allows motorists to get information about traffic tie-ups, road conditions or emergencies via Twitter.

“You shouldn’t be fiddling around with any kind of electronic gadget in your car while driving,” said Minnesota state Rep. Frank Hornstein, who helped write his state’s no-texting-while-driving law.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have banned all texting while driving, and eight others prohibit texting by younger drivers only, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Many of these laws essentially bar people from fooling with their smart phones in any way behind the wheel; in some cases, just reading from a mobile device is against the law.

Some supporters of text-messaging bans say that states that provide traffic information via Twitter are undermining these laws.

“I would guess that the states wouldn’t intend to be sending a mixed message, but it sounds like it could be a mixed message,” said Judie Stone, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

State transportation officials say they are not encouraging people to get online behind the wheel. They say drivers should read their tweets before hitting the road.

In Washington state, for example, where citizens and transportation officials can exchange messages about the latest traffic, the feed includes regular reminders not to use the service while driving. “Know before you go,” said one feed this week.

Drivers should “check our Web site before leaving. If you’re at your office, before you leave and there’s an issue on the roadway, it might alter your travel plans home,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.


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