Bill would change texting-and-driving fines

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers are backing efforts to limit the sale of popular vaping pens to minors, tightening hazing laws on campuses, and expanding the state’s current texting while driving laws. A Senate committee approved these bills and sent them to the Senate floor where legislators will cast their vote this week.

A bill by Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, would expand the existing ban of cellphone usage while driving in school zones to all roads.

The proposal would also decrease the fines associated with texting while driving from $500 to $100 for a first violation and from $1,000 to $300 for a second violation. A third violation would then incur fines of up to $300. The proposal also would lower the driver’s license suspension for a third violation from 60 to 30 days.

Safe driving practices, Huval said, is the main idea behind his bill. He cited other states that enforced similar legislation and as a consequence reported a decline in fatal car accidents.

Cellphone-related fatal accidents are on the rise in the state, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. This year, there were nine fatalities and 317 cases of injury due to cellphone distractions, the data show.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that one-third of U.S. drivers aged 18 to 68 engage with their phone while driving. The same report shows that nationally, there are more than 420,000 texting-and-driving-related injuries every year.

Richard Brown, a resident of Kenner, opposed the bill. In his testimony Brown said the problem with distracted driving is not the act of holding the phone but the mental distraction of the conversation.

Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, expressed her concerns about traffic incidents caused by electronics distraction and supported Huval’s bill.

“We’ve been working on this a long time,” Barrow said. “We still have not yet come up with some good tools to really address it.”

A proposal by Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, would increase fines for vendors that sell vapor products to underage individuals. The new fines would go up from $50 to a maximum of $500 for a first violation, and from $100 to a maximum of $750 for a second violation. Any further violation would cost perpetrators up to $1,000.

Current fines for selling vaping products to people under 18 are “too low,” argued Talbot in the Senate Judiciary Committee C, pointing out that the existing law only mandates fines of up to $250 f