Our dear governator has just signed a bill making it illegal for drivers to send text messages while driving. Even though I've been known to send a few text messages while driving, this is definitely a good thing, especially in light of the recent train accident in Los Angeles involving a train conductor. If you get busted, you'll have to throw down a Jackson at the very least (probably more when you add up all the fees and such) for the pleasure.
This new law means that California now has one of the most comprehensive sets of state laws concerning mobile phone use while driving in the country. As of Jan. 1, 2009, it will be illegal to send, read or write a text message -- there are already laws on the books requiring the use of a hands-free device for phoning while driving, and it's already illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to use a cellphone in any capacity (voice or text) while at the wheel. Theoretically the law also covers e-mail, as the law actually refers to any "text-based communication."
So what are the laws in the rest of the union? According to the site DrivingLaws.org, there are eight more states -- Alaska, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. -- that now have laws pertaining to the use of text messages and the use of mobile phones while driving. New York state, meanwhile, has a bill pending.
Gov. Palin signed the most recent law for her home state of Alaska, which restricts text messaging while driving, and also anything that has a "visual display" in full view of the driver. That likely includes televisions (I had a cab driver once in Korea who had a TV mounted in the front of his cab. Amazing), monitors, laptops or pretty much anything else.
Interestingly, some of the laws (like those of Nebraska and Oregon, for example) are "secondary enforcement" laws, meaning that they're only enforced when there's some other infraction, like running a light, or speeding, or something like that. New Jersey recently upgraded its laws from being a secondary offense to a primary offense.
Illinois, by contrast, oddly only prohibits use of a cellphone for drivers under 19, and also creates a specific restriction against school bus drivers while the bus is transporting students.
In other countries, the laws vary as much as they do in the U.S. Australia, for example, bans the use of a cellphone without a hands-free device while driving throughout the country. In Mexico, the rule only applies to the capital city, Mexico City, which is the case for Pakistan and its capital, Islamabad, as well.
Here in France, the law has been in effect since 2003, and you get fined 40 euros ($60) if you're caught.