Klobuchar supports national ban on texting while driving

Outlawed in Minnesota, new legislation would ban the habit nationwide.

by Mike Mullen

From 2006 to 2008, the Democrats held a single vote majority in the U.S. Senate. On more than one occasion during that period, Democrat Amy Klobuchar looked at the person driving her car in disbelief. On Saturday, the Senator repeated what she said then. âÄúWeâÄôve got a one vote margin in the Senate,âÄù Klobuchar said, âÄúand youâÄôre texting with me in the car?âÄù Klobuchar said she has taken a personal stand against texting while driving, and on Saturday, she announced that she had taken a professional stand, too. In a press conference in the parking lot of her Minneapolis office, Klobuchar said she would support a nationwide ban of texting while driving. The practice is already illegal in Minnesota and 21 other states, and in July of this year, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and three other Senate Democrats co-sponsored a bill to enact a nationwide prohibition. Klobuchar said while legislation to ban texting while driving would be popular on its own, the legislation would be attached to a larger transportation bill, which could lead to typical political complications. In its current form, the bill would withhold 25 percent of each noncompliant stateâÄôs federal highway money until the practice was banned. The proposed legislation has received support from a diverse group of organizations, including Ford Motor Company , and Verizon Wireless . Klobuchar said the issue came to her attention through the advocacy of local groups such as Minnesotans for Safe Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions . Perhaps as important in influencing Klobuchar, however, were a couple of high-profile and fatal incidents. In September 2007, two Minnetonka high school students were killed in an accident which the Minnesota State Patrol and survivors later blamed on the driverâÄôs distraction by her iPod and cell phone. One year later, the engineer of a train in California was found to have sent a text message just seconds before the train he was operating failed to stop at a red signal. His commuter train collided with a freight train, killing 25 passengers and injuring more than 130. One day after the engineerâÄôs texting âÄî which included a combined 45 messages sent and received over a two hour period âÄî was revealed, California regulators banned all use of cell phones by train operators. Klobuchar cited these cases, and a number of studies in which people, and young people in particular, admitted to texting while driving and the distraction it caused. âÄúItâÄôs almost as if theyâÄôre saying, please stop me before I text and drive again,âÄù Klobuchar said. As he exited TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, University student Muaz Rushdi sheepishly admitted that he had texted while driving before. But Rushdi said that, after one frightening instance in which he realized his car was veering into another lane while he typed, he decided he would stop doing it altogether. âÄúIf IâÄôm expecting one, and itâÄôs kind of an emergency, I might pick it up and read it,âÄù Rushdi said. âÄúBut I wouldnâÄôt respond. Maybe IâÄôd call them.âÄù If, as the Minnesota State Patrol says, the key in stopping texting while driving is prevention, than Rushdi is an example in the success of anti-texting campaigns. He knew the statistic that texting slows a driverâÄôs reaction time by 35 percent, and said heâÄôd learned it from a graphic public service announcement which aired in the United Kingdom. Another study done at the University of Utah showed that texting made drivers eight times more likely to crash than other drivers. State Trooper John Giovinco , who attended the press conference, said that he has recently given out tickets for texting, with fines ranging from $128 to $178. In one instance, a man driving a work van was texting and using his knee to steer his vehicle. In another, a woman had both hands off the wheel while she drove faster than 50 miles per hour. âÄúDriving has become secondary to people,âÄù Giovinco said. âÄúTheyâÄôre comfortable in the vehicle, they know how to do it, and adding another task doesnâÄôt seem like a big deal. But it really is.âÄù âÄúNo text message is worth dying for,âÄù Klobuchar said.