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New law bans texting while driving

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Ted Sullivan
December 1, 2010
— A 20-year-old Janesville man is accused of texting while driving when he swerved off the road and smacked a utility pole and tree.

The man told police he was heading west on Memorial Drive on Friday and was already on the terrace when he looked up from his phone, according to a Janesville Police Department accident report.


He was ticketed for inattentive driving and not wearing a seat belt. He remained in University Hospital in Madison on Monday in fair condition.


The wreck is an example of why a new state law effective today bans texting while driving. Motorists no longer can write or send e-mails or text messages while moving.


First-time offenders will face a maximum $400 fine and a loss of four points on their driving record.


Drivers of emergency vehicles, people using GPS navigation devices and drivers using voice recognition equipment to send messages will not be in violation of the law.


Motorists still can read text messages or surf the Internet on a phone. They also can scroll through other cell applications, dial numbers or talk on the phone.


Drivers also can send or text messages while stopped at a red light or stop sign if the vehicle isn't in motion.


Janesville Police Sgt. Brian Donohoue said it might be difficult for officers to know whether drivers are texting, but they will likely write most texting tickets after stopping drivers for other violations.


"It's unsafe, and they're not paying attention to driving, so they'll probably make some kind of violation," Donohoue said.


Officers already look for erratic drivers playing with a car stereo, reading a map or talking to a passenger in the back seat under the inattentive driving law, Donohoue said. The texting ban is an extension of that law.


"It's not really going to change anything the officers don't do already," he said.


Wisconsin is one of 30 states and the District of Columbia that has banned texting while driving. Wisconsin's law makes texting while driving a primary offense, which means police don't need another reason to stop the vehicle.


Rock County Sheriff's Capt. Jude Maurer said time would tell whether the new law reduces crashes.


He said the law could draw attention to the danger of texting while driving. He said the public's awareness and the ban would likely curb the problem for those who want to be safe and follow the law.


Deputies were told to give warnings to drivers caught texting in December while people become aware of the law, Maurer said. After December, deputies will write tickets.


"We encourage safe driving habits, and if you choose not to, these are the consequences," Maurer said.



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