Wyoming Distracted Driving Law
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
Wyoming’s Texting While Driving Stand
Wyoming joined 19 other states in banning handheld text messaging while driving when it passed SF 20 on March 11, 2010. Laws addressing distracted driving have become a common theme among legislators, with particular focuses on texting while driving and outlawing the usage of handheld cell phones (as opposed to using headsets or other hands-free devices).
SB (Senate File) 20 is a comprehensive ban on texting while driving. This law states that all drivers are banned from writing, sending, or receiving text messages while operating a motor vehicle in Wyoming. Drivers in violation of the law can be fined $75.
SF 20’s author is Senator Floyd Esquibel, (D-Cheyenne). He crafted this legislation with younger, less-experienced drivers in mind. Esquibel celebrated the law’s passage by saying that this law is “primarily for an age group that is already at high risk simply because of age.” Its broad scope, though, covers all drivers who text while driving. This mimics laws in several other states and addresses the overwhelming problem of texting while driving by drivers of all ages.
The path to SF 20 becoming law was swift. It left the House Transportation Committee on February 8, 2010, and received preliminary approval two days later by a voice vote of the full Senate. One month later, on March 3, the House approved the bill on its third reading. Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal signed the bill into law on March 11, 2010. The law went into effect on July 1 of that year.
SF 20 was temporarily derailed on its way to becoming law when an amendment was attached that would have only allowed the law to be enforced if secondary to another violation. This means that the police would not have been able to stop or cite a driver exclusively due to texting while driving. On March 2, 2010, this amended version of SF 20 was defeated in the House by a margin of 24-30. Representative Roy Cohee, (R-Casper), alleged that this amendment would weaken the bill, and the end version of the bill did not include this amendment.
The ability to enforce SF 20 as a primary violation is an important part of a growing movement to restrict or ban cell phone usage while driving. This is controversial, though, and extreme limitations still meet with a lot of resistance. SF 20 was viewed by some as the beginning of a push for a complete ban on handheld cell phone usage by drivers. SF 20’s House sponsor Representative Debbie Hammons, (D-Worland), disagrees. She was quoted by the Casper Star-Tribune as saying, “I think they’ve never been able to get anywhere with a cell phone ban.”
This may be changing, though, because although there is not a statewide ban, some Wyoming cities have been taking action to ban handheld cell phones while driving. In March of 2010, Green River put into effect a full ban on both texting and using handheld cell phones while driving. Fines are assessed for violation of the law: $65 for the first offense and $210 for subsequent offenses.
Green River’s ban singled out handheld cell phones, and this is a popular trend in legislation against distracted driving. Nationwide, legislation frequently distinguishes between handheld and hands-free devices, making exceptions to the law for the usage of a hands-free alternative. This may be an acknowledgment of an increased danger of using a handheld device or, as Representative Hammons suggested, a practical admission of the likely inability to ever have a full ban on cell phones while driving. Either way, aiming for handheld devices seems to be an acceptable compromise for many legislators.
Wyoming has attempted to address handheld device usage while driving on several occasions. In addition to SF 20 (and SF 63, an earlier attempt to ban texting while driving), Senator Esquibel has authored two bills that specifically targeted handheld cell phone usage while driving. SF 64 would have prohibited cell phone usage while driving unless the driver used a hands-free device. SF 65 would have required drivers with learner’s permits or restricted drivers licenses to use a hands-free device if using a cell phone while driving. Both bills were removed from active status. Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Michael Von Flatern, (R-Gillette), stated the SF was not ready for consideration. SF 65, meanwhile, is “indefinitely postponed.”
Other efforts have included HB 256, sponsored by a former member of the transportation committee, Representative Del McOmie, (R-Fremont). HB 256 would have created a handheld device ban while driving, requiring a driver to use a hands-free device or a dial-free “push to talk” feature if using the phone while driving. Like SF 64 and SF 65, HB 256 was also removed from active status.
Despite these setbacks, legislators continue to pursue legislation that will make driving safer. SF 20 was a big win for opponents of phone usage while driving. Texting bans are becoming popular and are the first step for legislators in finding a solution to distracted driving. With that taken care of, more focus will be placed on outlawing handheld devices and creating greater restrictions for drivers at greater risk, such as young drivers. Although there will continue to be resistance by those who defend the right to use a cell phone while driving for personal freedom and safety reasons, momentum is gathering towards greater restrictions.