Washington 21st state to pass cell phone, texting ban

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today commended Gov. Christine Gregoire for signing a law that makes Washington the 21st state to enact a ban prohibiting drivers from talking or texting on a cell-phone without a hands-free device.

This new law allows law enforcement officials to pull over and ticket drivers caught committing this offense in Washington.

“We’re excited that Washington has joined us in our fight against distracted driving,” said Secretary LaHood in a U.S. Department of Transportation press release. “Texting while driving and talking on cell phones is a recipe for disaster on our nation’s highways.”

According to research by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured.

In 2009, more than 200 distracted driving bills were considered by state legislatures and legislative activity is expected to remain strong in 2010.

On Feb. 22, Secretary LaHood unveiled sample legislation developed by NHTSA to be used as a starting point for crafting new state laws to prohibit texting while behind-the-wheel.

The sample state law is patterned on the Executive Order issued by President Obama on Oct. 1, 2009, directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment.

Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting on December 30, 2009.

LaHood announced the department’s plan to pursue regulatory action to prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and busses at the Distracted Driving Summit he convened in September 2009.

The department recently launched a federal Website, http://www.distraction.gov, as a forum and information clearinghouse.