Legislature(2011 - 2012)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

04/13/2012 08:00 AM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSSB 198(JUD) Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 343(JUD) am Out of Committee
Moved SCS HB 234(STA) Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 255(JUD) Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 50(JUD) Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 296(JUD) Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
         HB 255-READING OR TYPING MESSAGE WHILE DRIVING                                                                     
9:55:37 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  FRENCH announced  the  consideration of  HB  255, "An  Act                                                               
relating  to screen  devices in  motor vehicles;  prohibiting the                                                               
driver of a  motor vehicle from reading or typing  a text message                                                               
or  other  nonvoice  message  or   communication  on  a  cellular                                                               
telephone, computer,  or personal data assistant  while driving a                                                               
motor vehicle;  and providing  for an  effective date."  He asked                                                               
for a motion to bring the bill before the committee.                                                                            
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI  motioned  to   bring  HB  255  before  the                                                               
9:56:05 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE LES GARA,  sponsor of HB 255, stated  that in 2008                                                               
the  Legislature  passed a  bill  that  was thought  to  prohibit                                                               
texting while driving.  However, in the last  year several judges                                                               
have  said the  bill wasn't  written with  enough specificity  to                                                               
include texting. HB 255 fixes  the problem by reinstating the ban                                                               
on  texting,   and  extending  it   to  include   other  nonvoice                                                               
communication devices that may come along as technology evolves.                                                                
The six  co-sponsors believe  it is important  to have  a texting                                                               
law on the books because  texting while driving is more dangerous                                                               
than  any other  type of  cellphone conduct.  Information in  the                                                               
packet shows  that a driver who  texts a 4.6 second  message will                                                               
travel the  length of a  football field without  paying attention                                                               
to the road. A car and  driver study indicates that texting while                                                               
driving is  more dangerous than  drunk driving. According  to the                                                               
National  Conference  of  State  Legislatures, a  driver  who  is                                                               
texting  is  20 times  more  likely  to  cause  a crash  or  near                                                               
collision compared to times when  that driver is not texting. The                                                               
AAA Foundation  on Traffic Safety  found that while  one-third of                                                               
people  text  while  they  drive,   ninety-four  percent  of  the                                                               
respondents said  they recognize  that texting is  dangerous. The                                                               
public  recognizes  this  behavior   is  dangerous  and  supports                                                               
regulation, he said. He  described two texting-related accidents;                                                               
one was in Fairbanks and the other in Anchorage.                                                                                
A  person  who  violates  this  law   is  guilty  of  a  class  A                                                               
misdemeanor, although drivers with  a clean record have generally                                                               
been sentenced  to community service  or a fine rather  than jail                                                               
time. However,  a driver  who was texting  and driving  drunk was                                                               
sentenced to the mandatory three  days in jail for drunk driving.                                                               
Another  person failed  to  appear  in court  two  times and  was                                                               
sentenced to one  day in jail. The original bill  provided that a                                                               
person who violates this law  and causes injury to another person                                                               
is guilty of  the next level of crime. The  reasoning was that it                                                               
is close to  premeditated for a driver to enter  a car knowing he                                                               
or she will  engage in dangerous behavior. HB  255 maintains that                                                               
sentencing scheme.                                                                                                              
The  original  bill  made  an   accommodation  for  personnel  in                                                               
emergency vehicles  to use display  devices that are  attached to                                                               
the  dashboard.   To  accommodate  the  prevalence   of  wireless                                                               
devices,  that  provision was  amended  to  clarify that  police,                                                               
fire,  or emergency  medical personnel  may use  a screen  device                                                               
that  is attached  or not  "if the  user reasonably  believes the                                                               
information on  the device is  necessary to respond to  a health,                                                               
safety, or criminal matter."                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  said the only  criticism he's heard  is that                                                               
there  are other  behaviors that  distract  drivers like  eating,                                                               
drinking coffee  or yelling at the  kids. He said he  didn't know                                                               
how to write a law to say when  it is and is not okay to do those                                                               
things, but he  did know how to  write a law that  says you can't                                                               
text while driving. He noted  that the founder of Mothers Against                                                               
Drunk Driving (MADD)  has taken on texting and  cellphones as her                                                               
new issue.  He said  it's not possible  to address  cellphone use                                                               
this session due to diverging  opinions among legislators, but it                                                               
is possible to  address texting because people can  agree that it                                                               
is dangerous.                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA   said  he's  been  asked   why  this  isn't                                                               
prosecuted  under the  negligent  driving  or distracted  driving                                                               
statutes,  and the  answer relates  to the  statistic that  shows                                                               
that one-third of  drivers text while driving.  Those people will                                                               
be on  the jury, which  would make it  very difficult to  get the                                                               
unanimity needed for a conviction.  If the jury instruction says,                                                               
"Was the  person texting  while driving?" the  jury will  have to                                                               
answer  yes and  the defendant  will be  convicted. He  concluded                                                               
that a texting law is needed and most states already have one.                                                                  
10:05:43 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI reviewed the language  in Section 2, page 1,                                                               
line  14 through  page  2,  line 2,  and  observed  that the  new                                                               
language   appears  to   include  not   only  texting   but  also                                                               
communicating while a screen device is operating.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  clarified that  was the  name of  the crime,                                                               
not the elements. The elements of  the crime are on page 2, lines                                                               
3-11. Paragraph  (1) is  the existing  statute and  paragraph (2)                                                               
contains the new language. He  noted that the word "computer" was                                                               
inserted  because  the  Chair reported  an  incident  of  someone                                                               
typing on a laptop while driving.                                                                                               
CHAIR  FRENCH recounted  the  incident and  said,  "I flipped  my                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GARA read the new language in paragraph (2).                                                                     
     (2) the person  is reading or typing a  text message or                                                                  
     other nonvoice  message or communication on  a cellular                                                                    
     telephone,  personal data  assistant, computer,  or any                                                                    
     other  similar  means  capable of  providing  a  visual                                                                    
     display that is  in the view of the driver  in a normal                                                                    
     driving  position while  the vehicle  is in  motion and                                                                    
     while the person is driving.                                                                                               
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if surfing  the Internet while driving                                                               
would be a crime under this language.                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said  yes; to surf the Internet  a person has                                                               
to push the keys and that is typing.                                                                                            
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI  continued  to  question  whether  the  new                                                               
language would cover surfing the Internet.                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE GARA responded that the person is reading.                                                                       
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  asked if reading applies  to text messaging                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA  said reading  applies  to  anything on  the                                                               
computer  or personal  data device.  "We don't  want you  reading                                                               
while you're driving," he said.                                                                                                 
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  said he wasn't  disagreeing, but  he didn't                                                               
necessarily interpret  the language that  way. "It'll be  good to                                                               
get  some  language on  the  record  about what  we're  outlawing                                                               
here," he said.                                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said reading is  probably well covered in the                                                               
first section,  which is current  law, but it's also  intended to                                                               
be  covered in  the new  section. "It's  just reading  a text  or                                                               
other nonvoice  message or communication  and that's  what you're                                                               
doing when you're surfing the net."                                                                                             
10:09:19 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  posed a hypothetical situation  of a driver                                                               
getting lost and typing an address into map quest.                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said  that would be fine, and  added that the                                                               
original bill included a list of exceptions.                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI again asked about typing in an address.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA said  it does  not apply  to equipment  that                                                               
displays navigational or global positioning  or maps. It would be                                                               
okay to type in an address on an iPhone.                                                                                        
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI  asked  about  looking   up  a  name  on  a                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA  said  that's  fine  and  even  unlocking  a                                                               
cellphone is  acceptable. He directed  attention to page  2, line                                                               
18. "It  is not a  crime if  you're using your  portable cellular                                                               
telephones  or  personal data  assistants  being  used for  voice                                                               
communication..." He  opined that  typing in  the code  and phone                                                               
number is for  a voice communication, and all  forms of cellphone                                                               
talking  is  exempt  with  the  understanding  that  other  bills                                                               
address that issue.                                                                                                             
CHAIR FRENCH  noted that Lieutenant  Dial with the  Department of                                                               
Public  Safety and  Doug Moody  with the  Public Defender  Agency                                                               
were available to answer questions.                                                                                             
SENATOR PASKVAN  warned that it  may not be  a crime to  drive 60                                                               
miles an  hour and look  at a navigational or  global positioning                                                               
device, but a  person will be held responsible if  he or she does                                                               
that and  hurts someone. There's  a clear distinction  between it                                                               
not  being a  crime  and the  responsibility  for reasonable  and                                                               
acceptable conduct while driving, he stated.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GARA agreed  that a person would  still fall under                                                               
the negligent and  reckless driving statutes for  reckless use of                                                               
those exceptions.                                                                                                               
CHAIR FRENCH confirmed that reckless  driving is still a crime in                                                               
Alaska  and noted  that he  was  reviewing the  elements of  that                                                               
SENATOR PASKVAN  observed that those  were criminal  statutes and                                                               
he was referring to civil  liability. He emphasized that a person                                                               
will  be  held responsible  if  he  or  she kills  someone  while                                                               
driving.  Taking your  eyes off  the road  to look  at map  quest                                                               
because  you're lost  will not  be an  excuse. Some  people think                                                               
it's acceptable  to drive 60 miles  an hour and hit  someone, but                                                               
they're wrong. They will be held responsible.                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  responded that  the sponsors have  that same                                                               
understanding.  The  bill does  not  exempt  civil liability  for                                                               
negligent conduct. If  a person is negligent  and hurts somebody,                                                               
the rule is "You broke it, you fix it."                                                                                         
10:13:30 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR COGHILL  asked if  the purpose of  the phrase  "any other                                                               
similar  means" on  page  2,  line 9,  is  to accommodate  future                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said yes; today  an iPhone is a personal data                                                               
assistant but  the iPhone  5 may  be called  something different.                                                               
The intent is that if it's got a  screen and a person can type on                                                               
it and read it, then it's a similar means.                                                                                      
SENATOR COGHILL observed that it's  a visual distraction, and the                                                               
bill is  trying to  say that  visual distractions,  excluding the                                                               
exceptions, will generally be a primary crime.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said yes.                                                                                                   
10:14:35 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  asked if using Siri  (Speech Interpretation                                                               
and Recognition Interface) would be a violation.                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA replied it is not  a crime to voice text, and                                                               
the  Department of  Law  has  given assurance  that  it will  not                                                               
prosecute those  cases where  it isn't  possible to  tell whether                                                               
the voice text  application was open, because that's  not a crime                                                               
beyond  a  reasonable  doubt.  This  will  change  as  technology                                                               
advances, but that capability isn't available today.                                                                            
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI  asked  if   a  "normal  driving  position"                                                               
included  turning to  look at  an  iPhone that's  located on  the                                                               
passenger seat. "I  would think that we would  want that covered,                                                               
but it's just clarifying for the record," he said.                                                                              
10:16:51 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  explained that the terminology  in paragraph                                                               
(2)  prohibits texting  or using  other nonvoice  messaging while                                                               
driving. It is intended to  disallow the argument that the driver                                                               
had  one eye  on  the  road. Normal  driving  position means  the                                                               
driver is driving and his or her full attention is on the road.                                                                 
CHAIR  FRENCH   closed  public  testimony.  Finding   no  further                                                               
committee discussion, he asked the will of the committee.                                                                       
10:18:32 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  moved to report  CS for HB 255,  version T,                                                               
from  committee  with  individual  recommendations  and  attached                                                               
fiscal note(s).                                                                                                                 
CHAIR  FRENCH  announced  that without  objection  CSHB  255(JUD)                                                               
moved from the Senate Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                             

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