Some states broaden distracted-driving laws, but tech loopholes remain

Lawmakers need to be more specific when it comes to enacting mobile communication and driving laws to prevent loopholes.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
3 min read

Apparently lawmakers need to be more specific when it comes to enacting mobile communication and driving laws. Maryland's Senate passed a bill yesterday banning reading text messages while behind the wheel. The state already has a law on the books that makes sending a text message while driving illegal, but it says nothing about reading an incoming text message--until now.

Maryland's new bill closing this loophole is awaiting signature from the governor. And just to be clear, it also applies to reading text message while you're at a stop light and not technically driving. The way the law is drafted, reading e-mails is also forbidden in the new bill. But what about updating Facebook? Or changing Internet radio stations?

As mobile communication quickly evolves, driving laws have a tough time keeping pace. Most states have laws banning texting while driving, but those restrictions often don't extend to other applications on the mobile phone. A recent State Farm survey found that 19 percent of drivers use the Internet while behind the wheel. I doubt lawmakers have even begun to consider how they would handle vehicles that have social media integrated with vehicles, such as Mini Connect, which lets users reply to update Facebook and Twitter with predefined messages using the car's navigation controls.

States are a little inconsistent about rules governing distracted driving, and laws in effect are often riddled with loopholes. South Carolina is considering a new law would ban reading, writing, or sending of text messages. But while using the keypad to text is considered a driving infraction, drivers would still be allowed to select or enter phone numbers on a mobile phone. And although the proposed law says you can't read a text message, you're allowed to read phone numbers--presumably so long as they're in your phone book and not in a text message.

It's a technicality similar to driving laws in California. California drivers are required to use a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving. Although texting is banned, they're allowed to hold their phones while they select or dial a phone number. Unless you're under 18, and in that case, all wireless mobile communication devices (including pagers and laptops) to speak or text while driving are off-limits, even if it's hands-free. That said, using GPS navigation devices while on the road and is legal for all ages.

Given the lengthy process it takes to get a bill through state legislature, it seems distracted-driving laws are outdated as soon as they're enacted. To stay on top of the situation, mobile and automotive companies are trying to build in safeguards that disable texting and talking while driving to save drivers from themselves. The only downside is that they're optional programs and always include overrides. The National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration is waiting for more research before it weighs in on distracted driving and passes restrictions on mobile communication in vehicles. However, it would be so much easier if lawmakers could figure out a way to legislate common sense.