Many residents feel banning texting while driving a good idea

Diogo Pinto has text messaging and driving down to a science. The 19-year-old Nashua resident places his cell phone on the lower end of the steering wheel and blindly punches the tiny keyboard. Pinto keeps his eyes focused on the road while composing messages, he said.

Pinto’s sure he can communicate while driving safely and he might be right. But a proposed state law aims to stop him and countless motorists from testing those skills – and probably their luck.

Passed this week by the House and now on its way to the Senate, the measure seeks to impose a $100 fine on any motorist “writing a text message and using two hands to type on or operate an electronic or telecommunications device while driving.” The bill doesn’t aim to ban driving and talking on a cell phone.

A backer of the bill, Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat, cites studies that show text messaging is the second most dangerous act behind the wheel after driving drunk.

At least nine other states have similar legislation in the works, following the lead of the state of Washington, which passed the country’s first ban on texting and driving in 2007.

Rep. Richard Drisko (R-Hollis) sponsored the bill. New Hampshire’s House last year passed a similar measure of Campbell’s but it didn’t survive the Senate.

Not many motorists disagree with opponents of this sort of multitasking. Several polls in states with the pending legislation say a majority of adults find texting on the road distracting and dangerous. Many local motorists agree.

Nashua resident Joe Drift said he recently saw someone texting while driving haphazardly at more than 70 mph. He’s also seen the reverse of that distraction: motorists sitting at green lights because they’re busy texting.

Visiting downtown Nashua on Tuesday, Bennington resident Michelle Conroy conceded that she occasionally texts while driving, but supports the ban. David Short, also of Bennington, says he can spot a texting driver by the vehicle weaving in and out of traveling lanes.

“You think they’re drunk,” Short said. “Then you drive alongside them and say: ‘You’re not drunk.’ ”

Even teenagers – the demographic presumed to text and drive more than any other age group – agree that the driver’s seat is no place to type electronic messages.

Take Pinto’s Nashua High School South classmate Lisbeth Corado. “I can’t drive and do it,” the 18 year old said. “It makes me nervous.”

But other South students don’t go as far as Corado. They still send friends messages while driving even though they recognize the danger.

“I guess (the law) is good, but if you need to text, it could be a problem,” said Ingrid Guarin, 17.

Guarin’s friend, Karina Ochoa, 18, also texts while driving but said she is careful. “Everybody does it,” she said.

Joe Bergeron, 17, texts and drives but only in Nashua. He is familiar with his hometown’s roads, so he can handle the distraction. But when Bergeron drives anywhere else, he doesn’t text. He needs to pay attention, he said.

But teenagers, more than adults, can’t afford to use an electronic device while behind the wheel no matter where they drive, Nashua Police Lt. Bruce Hansen said.

Most of the motorists Hansen sees texting are teenagers, “and they are the most inexperienced drivers,” he said. Teenagers, unlike adults, need to pay full attention to the road because they need more time to react to unexpected circumstances because of their driving inexperience, he said.

But adults can be just as dangerous if they’re trying to type while behind the wheel, Hansen said. A law already on the books that prohibits driving while distracted works, but a law that specifically bans texting would give law enforcement “some teeth” in keeping the roads safe, he said.

Police officers should be able to determine who is breaking the law, Hansen said. More often than not, police officers spot vehicles drifting and then see those motorists in the act of texting, he said.

Critics of the bill say such a law could allow police to conduct on-the-spot searches of cell phones to prove motorists were texting. But Campbell said his bill would require police to have a search warrant just like any other time when phone records are sought for review.