Texting while driving is illegal in La.

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Highway safety officials remind motorists that Louisiana is one of 39 states that bans texting while driving. The maximum penalty for a first-offense texting-while-driving violation is $175 and subsequent offenses are punishable by fines of up to $500.

The Louisiana Legislature passed the texting ban in 2008, then toughened the law in 2010 by making texting while driving a "primary" offense. The original version of the law allowed law enforcement officers to ticket drivers caught texting only if they were pulled over for another offense. By making it a "primary" offense in 2010, officers need not observe another offense; they can pull over and ticket drivers they see texting.

The texting-while-driving law is one of several the Legislature has passed to address the growing issue of distracted driving. Another law prohibits persons 17 years or younger from using a cell phone or other certain electronic devices while driving. A 2008 statute prohibits drivers with a learners license from talking on the phone while behind the wheel unless the device is a "hands-free wireless telephone."

The cell-phone restrictions allow certain exemptions for drivers, including, but not restricted to, reporting a traffic crash, use for medical emergencies, reporting a serious road hazard and reporting a crime.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said much research is being conducted regarding the impact that cell phones, texting and use of other portable electronic devices have on drivers' concentration.

"One thing that many safety experts agree on is that texting requires quite a bit of mental concentration, taking your eyes off the road to look at the texting device and using at least one hand to hold it--all activities that can distract a driver from what should be his or her primary focus of controlling the vehicle," LeBlanc said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nationwide nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than 500,000 were injured. In Louisiana last year, 20 persons were killed in crashes involving driver distractions.

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. Common distractions for motorists include:

 -Texting

-Using a cell phone

-Eating and drinking

-Talking to passengers

-Grooming

-Reading

-Using a navigation system

-Watching videos

-Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 device