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Texting-while-driving bans suggested to states

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Federal safety regulators have proposed a set of guidelines for states to create laws that would ban text messaging while driving.

The sample state law, announced last week, comes amid growing concern about the risks of texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety 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.

"Texting while driving, like talking on cell phones while driving, is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening practice," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The proposed legislation, prepared by NHTSA and industry advisers, would authorize law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle and issue a citation to drivers who are texting while driving.

Under the proposed guidelines, drivers caught typing on a handheld device while behind the wheel would face a minimum fine of $75 and unspecified action against their driving privileges. In cases resulting in serious injury or death, a driving while texting offense could be considered a felony.

"This language, which we created with a variety of safety organizations, is another powerful tool in our arsenal to help the states combat this serious threat," LaHood said.

A ban on texting behind the wheel has already been enacted in 19 states and the District of Columbia. There are seven states that have banned the use of handheld devices while driving.

Regulators said texting is particularly dangerous because it distracts drivers in three different ways: visually, manually and cognitively.

What's more, NHTSA research shows that the most frequent offenders are the youngest and least-experienced drivers, men and women under 20 years of age.

The sample state law is modeled on rules implemented last year directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment.

In addition, the Department of Transportation announced federal guidance earlier this year to prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

"Our top priority is safety and we are determined to help the states eradicate the dangerous practice of texting while driving," NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in a statement.  To top of page

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