Wyoming has become the 20th state to ban texting while driving, surprising many opponents given the state’s traditional reluctance to impose restrictions on drivers. Under the new law, which takes effect on July 1 of this year, drivers caught texting behind the wheel will receive a $75.00 fine.
Wyoming’s punishment will be light compared to its neighbor Utah, which passed the harshest penalties for texting and driving in the nation, slapping violators with up to 3 months in jail and a $750 fine. On the other hand, California drivers found in violation of their state’s anti-texting law merely receive a $20 fine.
Still, Wyoming’s measure contains the built-in power to boost awareness about the dangers of texting behind the wheel, which may weigh heavier in dissuading drivers from texting than the threat of steep fines.
Wyoming is one of the few states where drivers can’t be pulled over and fined for not wearing their seat belt, and it took advocates many years to get the legislature to pass open-container laws that make opened bottles of alcoholic beverages illegal to possess while driving.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is leading the national charge against texting and driving, praised Wyoming for passing the anti-texting legislation.
“Wyoming has taken an important step to eliminate distracted driving,” LaHood said. “Texting while driving, like talking on cell phones while driving, is dangerous to the driver doing it and all of those around them.”
Studies show that drivers who text are more than 23 times more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers. According to Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, texting is a greater danger than dialing, talking, listening, or reaching for the phone or other electronic device.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that in 2008 about 6,000 people died and more than half a million were injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers.