LINCOLN — A motorist tapping out a text message behind the wheel might look up and see flashing lights in the rearview mirror under a bill introduced Friday in the Nebraska Legislature.
State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff wants to make texting while driving a primary offense in Nebraska. Under current law, police can write tickets for the offense only if they make a stop for another traffic violation.
Harms also sponsored the 2010 legislation that resulted in the existing law. He wanted texting while driving classified as a primary offense then, too, but it was amended by lawmakers on the floor.
The law probably deters relatively few drivers who text because they know they can't be pulled over for it, Harms said.
“I've talked to law enforcement who say it's a good law, but we can't use it,” he said.
While the state can't readily track the total number of tickets for a given traffic violation, there were 89 convictions for texting behind the wheel in 2011, said Fred Zwonechek, administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. Figures for 2012 are not yet available.
As a cause of crashes in state traffic reports, texting is included under the heading of “distracted driving.” In 2011, the state saw about 3,500 such crashes, resulting in 1,200 injuries and six fatalities.
A driver is 23 times more likely to get into an accident while sending or reading a text message than if not distracted, according to a 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Nebraska, Iowa, Virginia and Ohio are the only states that make texting while driving a secondary offense, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. A total of 35 states list it as a primary offense.
Texting while driving carries fines of $200 for first offense, $300 for second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses in Nebraska. Each infraction also assesses 3 points against the violator's driver's license.
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