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Safe Roads Now: Texting and driving bills continue to get halted in unicameral

Posted at 1:11 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 08:58:09-04

Over the last five years, bills that would change both texting and driving laws in the state of Nebraska, as well as seat belt laws, have been brought into the unicameral. Each of those bills has failed to even get out of committee.

This past legislative session, State Sen. Roy Baker introduced a bill to tighten seat belt laws in Nebraska. He figured it was common sense legislation but the committee never even voted on it.

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"There's a scramble among the right wing to posture themselves as being very, very conservative and accordingly, if you're very, very conservative you don't listen to anything that entails more regulation," Baker said.

Transportation committee chair Curt Friesen, a Republican, said that is not his rationale behind it. He says racial profiling, specifically with seat belt laws, is why he halted the legislation.

"Officers tend to profile," Friesen said. "It's easy to drive along, and you see somebody, and you can say, 'Oh, I didn't see you had your seat belt on,' and if it's a primary offense. They can pull them over, and then they can ask to search the car."

Profiling is one reason Friesen is also against the tightening texting and driving laws, but that has not stopped most of the country from passing them.

"If you look at a U.S. map, there are 47 states that have texting while driving bans, however only four of those states have it as a secondary measure, and that includes Nebraska," Public Affairs Coordinator Rose White said.

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States that have tighter restrictions have gotten creative in order to enforce them, and Friesen says Nebraska's law enforcement has other issues to worry about than texting drivers.

"It varies on how bad you want to enforce it," Friesen said. "And if you're going to go to all the trouble to enforce it, are you going to show results that actually lowers accident ratios? Data right now shows that you're not."

Others against new laws say it raises constitutional questions, and that Nebraska law already covers texting and driving.

"Right now in Nebraska, we have two laws that essentially encompass this type of behavior, and that's reckless driving and careless driving," said Joe Howard, secretary of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney's Association.

While there may be opposition, it seems likely similar bills will again be introduced in the coming legislative session.

"I think the toughest part is getting it out of committee so far," Baker said. "I think getting it to the floor, I think it has a good shot."