BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers concerned about road safety have introduced bills that would ban texting while driving, penalize people who drive carelessly around bicyclists and punish rash cyclists who speed through crosswalks.
The bills, introduced Feb. 11 in the Senate Transportation Committee, were prompted by studies that showed the increased risks drivers face while texting and by at least four fatal biking accidents that happened in southern Idaho last year.
Sen. John McGee's bill would make texting while driving a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $300 fine. McGee told the committee lawmakers need to crack down on a "deadly practice" that he compares to driving while drunk.
"Texting while driving has become such an issue and so dangerous that it deserves to be singled out as a behavior that is unacceptable," he said.
University of Utah researchers published a study last year that concluded texting while driving increases crash risk. Virginia Tech researchers found the risk increased 23-fold.
Georgia GOP leaders strike transportation deal
ATLANTA — Georgians voting in the 2012 presidential primary will be able to decide whether to increase the sales tax by one penny to pay for transportation projects, under a deal announced Feb. 11 by Gov. Sonny Perdue and legislative leaders.
Under the plan — which must still be approved by the Legislature — regions that approve the tax increase would have money to spend on local road and infrastructure projects. Others could reject the increase and would not see any additional funding.
The proposal would also give MARTA flexibility to tap millions of dollars in its reserve fund to stay afloat. Atlanta's public transit system is staggering under a huge funding shortfall.
Spending on transportation in Georgia has lagged well behind the state's explosive population growth. Georgia spends the second lowest per capita in the country on transportation, ahead of only Tennessee.
Road projects in Georgia are funded mostly with money from the state's gasoline tax. But those revenues have tumbled due to the recession.
The DOT board oversees a budget of roughly $2 billion.
S.D. panel rejects ban on cell use by young drivers
PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's youngest drivers may continue texting and talking on cell phones when they're behind the wheel, a state House committee decided Feb. 12.
The Health and Human Services Committee voted 9-4 to kill a measure that would have prohibited 14- and 15-year-olds from using cell phones while driving.
Banning cell phone use by beginning drivers would reduce deaths and injuries from crashes caused by distracted drivers, said Rep. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls, the measure's main sponsor.
"Driving an automobile for young people is really something they need to give their full attention to," Cutler said.
However, committee members questioned how the ban would be enforced and also argued it would make no sense to ban cell phone use by drivers in only one age group.
If driving while talking on a cell phone is dangerous, it should be banned among drivers of all ages, said Rep. Larry Lucas, D-Mission.
James Carpenter, director of the state Office of Highway Safety, said 21 other states have passed laws banning some form of cell phone use by young drivers. South Dakota has the nation's youngest beginning age for drivers, he said.
Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for State Farm Insurance Co. and a member of a coalition involved in safety issues, said traffic crashes are the top cause of death among those ages 15 to 20. Only 1.7 percent of South Dakota's drivers are 14 or 15, but they are in 6.1 percent of the state's crashes involving deaths and injuries, he said.
Committee votes to endorse study of tolls on I-80
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A legislative committee says Wyoming should study the idea of imposing tolls on motorists using Interstate 80.
The Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee voted 4-1 on Feb. 10 for the bill, Senate File 35.
The bill would direct the state transportation department to write a tolling plan for the highway that cuts east-west across southern Wyoming. The study might take up to two years to complete and the Legislature would have to review it and take further action before any tolling could start.
Pat Collins, an engineer with the department, says about 90 percent of the 13,000 vehicles a day that use I-80 aren't from Wyoming. He says the roadway is deteriorating because of inadequate funding.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff may be reached for comment at email@example.com.