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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Texting while driving ban in Wisconsin begins

The Wisconsin ban on text messaging while driving began yesterday in an effort by the state Legislature to cut down on distracted driving across the state.

Distracted driving, according to, is “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.” Distracted driving, according to a statistics sheet, accounted for nearly 6,000 deaths and more than half a million injuries across the country in 2008.

Wisconsin becomes the 30th state to enact a texting-while-driving ban, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Drivers who are suspected of texting or sending e-mails behind the wheel can be pulled over and ticketed for anywhere from $20 to $400 on their first offense in Wisconsin.

GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha acknowledged it may be hard for police officers to see whether a person is actually texting in their car. She said “demonstration research” funded by her organization has shown police are more effective in catching sneaky texters when police are in an SUV or on a motorcycle — which allows them to look down into other cars.

Harsha said it is “common sense” to ban texting because everyone should be concentrating on driving. Harsha also said police have the right to check drivers’ phones to see if they had been texting.

“Driving is a privilege, and when you get your driver’s license, you are agreeing to a contract to obey all laws of the road,” she said.

Harsha said she wouldn’t be surprised if full cell phone bans begin to gain popularity in the future when research shows whether or not these texting bans are effective.

Further research is needed on the issue, but a study done by Virginia Tech is a key component to the argument for banning texting, Harsha said.

The 2009 study found drivers who were texting while driving are 23 times as likely to get into an accident. The study, which filmed 100 truck drivers, also found drivers who texted spent an average of 4.6 seconds looking down at their phone before accidents. During this time, traveling at 55 miles per hour, a car would travel roughly 100 yards.

On the other hand, a study published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the end of September found that accidents in states with texting bans actually increased rather than decreased.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a press release. “In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted.”

Russ Rader, vice president of communication at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said although these results are still incomplete — with only four states being analyzed — the preliminary results show that banning texting while driving may be missing the larger issue.

“Accidents may even be increasing because drivers are hiding the fact they are texting, which distracts them even more,” Rader said. “Lawmakers who are expecting this law to be a boon are likely to be disappointed.”

Harsha said with 12 new states adding a ban this year alone, law enforcement across the nation is still “gearing up” to bust drivers and make the roads safer.

Rader, on the other hand, said there are other measures that would be more effective for promoting safety on Wisconsin roads, such as a universal motorcycle helmet law or installation of red light cameras.

“These issues are raised because everyone from the Secretary of Transportation to Oprah is talking about them,” he said. “Politicians overlook these more effective measures, though.”

Michael Sweret, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said he has a car on campus and is sometimes distracted by texting while driving.

“I think it is a good law, and it makes sense,” he said. “But it would be an invasion of privacy for police to look in my phone to see if I was using it.”

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