Kentucky drivers wouldn’t be allowed to send text messages from behind the steering wheel under a measure that cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.
A House Transportation Committee passed the measure 18-7.
“If we can save one life with this legislation, it’s certainly worth it,” said state Rep. Jody Richards, DBowling Green, the bill’s sponsor.
Richards said research shows that drivers who send and receive text messages are more prone to accidents than drunken drivers.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Another 10 states restrict texting by novice drivers.
Chuck Geveden, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, said Kentucky is one of 23 states that are currently considering texting bans.
The measure remains divisive among some lawmakers who consider the measure a government intrusion. State Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, was among those who voted no.
“I think we should probably look to amend the bill to outlaw eating, looking at your maps, using your radio, rolling your windows down or locking your doors,” Couch said.
The Kentucky measure calls for a phasing in of penalties. Only courtesy warnings will be issued until Jan. 1. After that, violators would face fines ranging from $20 to $100.
The legislation also bars teenagers under 18 from using cell phones while driving. That prohibition doesn’t apply to adults.
Richards said the Kentucky measure has gained momentum, as have similar proposals across the country. Gov. Steve Beshear is one of the leading proponents, having taken action last year to bar state employees from texting while driving government vehicles.
The U.S. Transportation Department took action Tuesday to prohibit truck and bus drivers from sending text messages on hand-held devices while operating commercial vehicles. The prohibition, which applies to drivers of interstate buses and trucks over 10,000 pounds, is effective immediately and carries potential civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.