Teen steers into texting foes' camp
By Martha Stoddard
LINCOLN — Like most of her friends, Jillian Humphries used to consider herself a whiz at sending text messages from behind a steering wheel.
“For most of us, texting and driving was a daily event,” the Benson High School student told state lawmakers.
The teenager reformed her ways after seeing a graphic video made in the United Kingdom. The video is a dramatization of a head-on crash caused by a teen driver sending a text message.
Now, although Humphries admits it is a daily test of will, she neither texts nor talks on a cell phone while driving.
She appeared Tuesday before the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee to support a bill that would ban texting while driving in Nebraska.
Legislative Bill 845, introduced by State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, would apply to drivers of all ages.
Under the bill, a first offense would mean a $200 fine and the loss of three points on one's driver's license. The fine would be $300 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense.
Harms said texting while driving has become a widespread problem and is getting worse.
“It's a tragedy waiting to happen, not only in this nation, but in this great state,” he said. “I believe lives are at stake every day.”
He said the growing popularity of text messaging has led to growing concern about driving safety.
The number of text messages sent monthly has exploded from 7.2 billion in 2005 to 135.2 billion last year, according to CTIA, a wireless telecommunications industry group.
Nearly one in five people who own cell phones admitted, in a 2008 survey, to reading or sending texts while driving.
The result is that texting caused between 200,000 and 1 million accidents during 2008, according to an analysis by the National Safety Council.
The council estimated that about 1 percent of drivers were texting at any given moment in 2008 but that such drivers accounted for between 3 percent and 18 percent of accidents.
Harm said Nebraska would not be the first state to ban texting by drivers.
Nineteen other states ban texting by all drivers, while nine ban it for young drivers. Nebraska bans texting and cell phone use by teens with learner's permits or provisional driver's licenses.
Bans also apply to federal employees who drive government vehicles and to commercial truck and bus drivers.
And just Tuesday, an Iowa House committee approved a limited ban on people texting while driving.
Harms noted that he is often asked whether a ban could be enforced. He said law enforcement officials say they can usually tell whether someone is texting by their erratic driving. Texting drivers will speed up, slow down or veer into another lane.
No one appeared in opposition to LB 845. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.
The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would ban cell phone use by school bus drivers, including employees of private companies that drive students under a contract with a school. LB 697 was proposed by a group of students from Lincoln East High School.