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OMG no more text messaging while driving

December 30, 2009
LAKES REGION — At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, a common practice for many people will be illegal in this state, as text messaging while driving will become a violation that carries a $100 fine.

At the end of July Gov. John Lynch signed the statute, making it illegal to text, use a laptop computer or go beyond pressing a key for a name in a cell phone address book or dialing the number.

RSA 265105-a, prohibiting text messages and device usage while operating a motor vehicle, says, "A person operating a moving motor vehicle who writes a text message or uses two hands to type on or operate an electronic or telecommunications device, is guilty of a violation," but clarifies that "a person does not write a text message when he or she reads, selects, or enters a phone number or name in a wireless communications device for the purpose of making a phone call."

New Hampshire becomes the 16th state to ban texting or operating electronic devices (other than dialing a phone number) while driving. In Massachusetts the practice is still legal, but Connecticut and other states are seeing the dangers and instituting texting while driving laws. New York took the measure one step further, banning cell phone usage without a hands-free device as well.

Belmont Police Chief Vinnie Baiocchetti said it is a law police officers will be sure to enforce, but he admitted it won't always be easy.

"The way I read the statute, I don't believe it will be easily enforced since the officer has to not only see a person texting but know and prove that the person was texting as opposed to just looking at their phone or dialing a number," Baiocchetti said.

Drivers who send text messages, he said, tend to pay more attention to what they are typing than the road before them, causing cars to cross a center line or even drive into the back of a slower car. Baiocchetti acknowledged that cell phones and texting have become vital means of communication today, but there is a time and a place for them.

"Hurtling down the road at 40-50 miles per hour in a 3,000 pound vehicle is not the time to do that," he said.

Local reactions were mixed as older drivers thought it was a great move and younger drivers, more likely to use the communication method more frequently, were not so thrilled. In fact, most admitted that while they may think twice about texting, they'll probably continue to do so on occasion.

"I'm sure I'll still send a quick message to someone but maybe I'll wait until I'm at a stop sign or a red light," said one younger Tilton driver who asked not to be identified.

Businessman Rick Diersch said that his job finds him traveling the state and having to use a lot of technology himself. He, like many other business people, has his Blackberry and laptop available as he travels but admits that it can be distracting and potentially dangerous while driving. He said he usually uses a hands-free device for his phone and tries not to use the laptop while driving. He was very much in favor of the new statute.

"It will effect my job a little bit but I think it will make it more safe for people out on the roads. I don't think everyone will follow the new law, though," he said.

Melody Smock of Franklin, mother of a teenage driver, thought the law was "awesome," but didn't think it had gone far enough in protecting drivers on the roads.

"It's about time. It's a dangerous practice and perhaps even being on the cell phone when you're driving should be considered. I think it's fabulous that texting is against the law now," she said.

She hadn't been aware of the new law, but now she plans to have a discussion with her son about it as she knows he relies on text messaging a lot.

Baiocchetti said his officers will be keeping an eye out for offenders and that he was not naive enough to think the practice of texting while driving will stop just because of the legislation.

"Hopefully the law will cause people to think about it and maybe chose to pull over and text or wait for a safer and more appropriate time," he said.

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