While many states have willingly banned texting while driving (TWD), the stragglers may soon be required to do so as well. U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) unveiled new legislation that will ban anyone from texting on a cell phone or other personal electronic device while operating a moving vehicle.

The senators’ bill—known as the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act (“ALERT Drivers” Act)—would require states to bar the sending of text or e-mail messages while operating a car or truck, or else risk losing federal highway funds. Within six months of the bill’s passage, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will establish minimum penalties that must be contained within the state law. States then have two years to pass compliant bans or risk losing 25% of their annual federal highway finding per year that they fail to comply with the law. States that comply after the two-year deadline can retroactively recover lost highway funds.

While Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. is still exploring the details of this particular legislation, it supports the concept of a national ban on TWD as an integral part of the solution.

A 2008 Nationwide study of more than 1,500 Americans found that 20% of American drivers send text messages while driving. And that number jumps to 39% for drivers under 30 years old.

“There is a growing body of research and evidence that suggests a ban on texting while driving will save lives and make our roads a safer place to drive,” says Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s safety officer. “Nationwide believes we can save lives by finding solutions to the problem through legislation, public awareness and encouraging the development of new technology. In addition to saving lives, fewer crashes could result in lower auto insurance costs.”

Nationwide has taken the strong public position that technology will play an important role in effectively changing behavior behind the wheel. In early 2008, Nationwide began working with Aegis Mobility on a new, cell phone-based technology that will have a positive impact on reducing TWD crashes by advising callers and texters that the individual they are trying to reach is driving. Nationwide will be offering a discount for individuals that sign up for the DriveAssist program when it becomes available.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, text messaging is banned for all drivers in 14 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 10 states (Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, and West Virginia) and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in one state (Texas). The organization provides a map of texting bans at http://www.iihs.org/laws/maptextingbans.aspx.

On a local level, Virginia is one of the latest states to ban TWD, and AAA Mid-Atlantic is an advocate.

“Virginia is now among 13 states and the District of Columbia who have taken the lead on this issue, and AAA salutes lawmakers for their aggressive and life saving work,” says Martha Mitchell Meade, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “There is absolutely no doubt that typing a message on a one-by-one inch screen takes a driver’s eyes and mind off of the road, and creates a dangerous and deadly scenario. This law will clearly make our roadways safer for everyone.”

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