Road sign: Drivers texting ban goes into effect Sept. 30

State Rep. Marty Walz wishes to remind drivers that a new safe driving law banning text-messaging, prohibiting junior operators from using cell phones while driving, and instituting revised license renewal procedures for older drivers goes into effect on Sept. 30.

Under the new law, any driver caught using a mobile electronic device to compose, send or read an electronic message, including a text message, email message or instant message, is violating the law and may be fined $100. It is also a violation to access the Internet while driving. The law applies even if a vehicle is stopped in traffic.

A mobile electronic device includes a mobile telephone, text-messaging device, paging device, PDA and a laptop computer. A mobile electronic device does not include any equipment permanently or temporarily installed to provide navigation, emergency assistance or rear seat video entertainment.

While law enforcement will have the authority to stop any driver suspected of a violation, the offense will not be considered a moving violation and will not, consequently, lead to an insurance surcharge.

Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using any type of cell phone or mobile electronic device with or without a hands-free feature. They are subject to a $100 fine and a 60-day suspension of their driver’s license for the first violation and more severe penalties for subsequent violations. Offenders will also have to complete a driver attitudinal course before their license is reinstated. Sixteen- and 17-year-old drivers may use their cell phone to report an emergency, although they are encouraged to pull over and stop their vehicle before making a call.

“While I wish this law banned cell phone use by all drivers unless they use a hands free device, a ban on texting while driving is a good first step,” Walz said. “This law will save lives and reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted driving.”

With respect to older drivers, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will now require any driver age 75 or older to renew their license in person and undergo a vision test every five years.

To reduce the number of impaired drivers, the new law allows health care providers and law enforcement to ask the RMV to seek a medical evaluation of a driver they believe is not physically or mentally capable of safely operating a vehicle due to cognitive or functional impairment. Such a request cannot be based on a driver’s age or solely on a diagnosis of a medical condition or impairment. The request must be based on the effect either has on a person’s ability to drive safely.

The RMV will also develop standards to help law enforcement, health care providers and families better assess a driver’s ability to handle a vehicle safely.

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