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Hands on the wheel, not on the BlackBerry keys

Hands on the wheel, not on the BlackBerry keys
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First Published: Mon, May 14 2007. 10 29 AM IST
Updated: Mon, May 14 2007. 10 29 AM IST
Do u txt whl drvng?
If you are doing so in Washington state, promptly cease and desist, or risk a fine.
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the nation's first law on Friday to ban "DWT" -- driving while texting with a cell phone, BlackBerry or other mobile device.
"Would you read a book or newspaper while you were driving? No!" Gregoire said. "Then why would you text while driving?"
New Jersey is asking, too. Its legislature is considering a bill to outlaw DWT (one of its sponsors, Paul D. Moriarty, admitted to sometimes using his BlackBerry while driving).
Some states already ban talking on a cell phone behind the wheel unless a headset is used, and Washington joined that group Friday. But more legislators seem to be aware of the danger of multitaskers tapping away without coming to a stop.
Mobile texters in the US sent 158 billion messages last year, up 95% from 2005, according to industry statistics. But there is no data on how many are typed or read by drivers, or how often the activity leads to collisions.
There are, though, documented cases of texting-related crashes, including one that prompted the law in Washington. A driver, apparently fixated on his BlackBerry, slammed his van into the car in front of him last December, causing a five-vehicle pileup, state officials said.
Not everyone advocates legislation. Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that such laws, while well-intended, were difficult for police to detect or enforce.
In Washington, the penalty for DWT is a $101 fine (the proposed fine in New Jersey is $250). But the crime is a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for some more grievous infraction.
"There's a challenge for law enforcement," said Gregoire.
James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University, says he doubts that many multitaskers will keep both hands on the wheel.
"Only the most angelic drivers will be able to resist the temptation," he said.
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First Published: Mon, May 14 2007. 10 29 AM IST
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