The Tennessee Senate on Thursday voted to ban reading or sending cellular phone text messages while driving despite objections from some lawmakers who believe the measure is redundant and may be tough to enforce.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, was approved 23-6. The companion bill is awaiting a vote before the full House on Monday.
"This is very important legislation that can save lives in Tennessee," said Tracy, adding that eight other states have passed similar laws.
The bill would impose a $50 fine for reading or writing text messages while driving. It would be considered a nonmoving traffic violation, which means no points would be added to a person's driving record.
The proposal would also exempt certain officials — such as officers of the state, campus police officers and emergency medical technicians — when performing their duties.
Opponents argue that law enforcement may not be able to tell whether drivers are texting or dialing and that texting is already covered under the state's distracted driving law.
"It's redundant," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, who voted against the proposal. "It's already against the law."
As for enforcing the measure, Tracy said he's talked to law enforcement officials who say they're able to determine that someone is texting because of the lengthy amount of time a person spends looking down in his or her vehicle while driving," Tracy said.
"It's very dangerous to look down while texting," he said.
The companion bill became more acceptable to House members after a subcommittee agreed to a cost-saving change.
An earlier version required permanent signs to warn drivers that texting is illegal, but the House Budget Subcommittee changed it to use electronic message boards.
Tracy believes the change will help the bill's chances of passage in the House.
"I think that will satisfy some folks who had a little concern about it," he said.