The New York Times reported recently that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for a “‘distracted driving summit'” to be held in September to address legal and policy changes to combat the dangers of texting and talking on cell phones while driving. The Times reported that the Transportation Secretary’s announcement was made on the heels of a proposal by several senators to withhold federal highway money from states that fail to ban texting while driving. This year, North Carolina joined the ranks of states (The Times reports there are 14 in all) that ban the practice.
New G.S. 20-137.4A makes it unlawful as of December 1, 2009, to operate a vehicle on a public street, highway, or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person. It is also unlawful to read email or text messages while driving. The ban does not apply if the vehicle is lawfully parked or stopped, or to law enforcement officers, fire department members, or ambulance drivers while they are performing official duties. Drivers are permitted to GPS systems and wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system along with voice operated technology. Texting while driving a school bus is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than $100. All other violations are infractions punishable by a fine of $100 and costs of court. No driver’s license or insurance points are assessed for a violation. Moreover, a violation of GS 20-137.4A is not negligence or contributory negligence per se. The General Assembly ordered the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee to identify and study the leading causes of driver distraction, the risks posed, and methods to manage those distractions and promote highway safety. The committee must report its findings and recommendations along with any proposed legislation to the General Assembly by April 15, 2010.