The state of Washington yesterday became the first in the nation to ban text-messaging while driving. The law could use sharper teeth, but it’s a natural and necessary progression of the movement to clamp down on those who find the need to constantly communicate more important than the safety of their fellow travelers.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday signed this country’s first law putting the kibosh on the dangerous practice of text messaging while behind the wheel of a moving automobile. … Bully for her.

Lawmakers in the other Washington should take note and follow suit, but in the meantime several other states, including New Jersey, are considering similar legislation.

Sometimes the law is an ass. Sometimes it just takes awhile to wake up.

A major weakness in the Washington law is that it allows for enforcement of the no-texting-while-driving provision only when the driver has already committed another traffic offense. Moreover, the paltry fine of $101 will mean little to the Crackberry-obsessed businesspeople who consider their need to communicate while cruising the fast lane more important than the safety of those around them.

Some 158 billion mobile text messages were sent in the U.S. last year, up almost two-fold from 2005, according to this New York Times report. And, while it’s unknown how many of those were typed by drivers in moving vehicles, it doesn’t take scientific research to figure out that we’re talking a big number. And we’ve yet to mention the texting-mania gripping our nation’s young people.

With evidence of the danger mounting, lawmakers have been cracking down on cell phone use while driving for some time, but those provisions to date have failed to take texting into account, leaving a loophole for the nimble-fingered to drive a Hummer through.

And while the anti-government, anything-goes crowd will howl their usual protests about such laws, one post to a Times forum aptly summarizes the issue:

Is this honestly a question that NEEDS to be asked? Why not just open the laptop and type up a research paper and fry up a dozen eggs while you are at it.

There is one thing you should be doing behind the wheel of an automobile, and that is driving to the best of your ability. Anything short of that is not only dangerous to yourself, but everyone within your reach . . . and being dangerous to others used to get you locked away for extended periods of time.

OK, maybe the locked away business is a bit extreme, but these laws are going to need sharper teeth than those mustered by Washington’s lawmakers if they have any hope of dissuading the recklessly self-centered (not to mention teenagers) who see nothing wrong with this practice.

In the meantime, congratulations to the lawmakers and governor in Washington state for sending the right message — safety trumps the urge to text.

Via Network World