Currently the fines for using your hand-held cell phone to talk, text or email while driving are $100 for each offense. State Senators Dick Codey and Fred Madden don’t feel that’s much a deterrent. Today, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee approved a Codey/Madden bill that would address what the Senators call the “epidemic” of hands-free violations by drivers engaging in dangerous, and potentially lethal, distractions while behind the wheel.

The legislation would put in place a graduated penalty structure for repeat offenders who violate the state’s hands-free cell phone law more than once in a ten-year period. Under the bill, first-time offenders would have to pay a fine of $200. Drivers convicted of a second offense within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $400, and drivers convicted of a third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $600 and face driver’s license suspension of up to 90 days.

Third and subsequent offense could also lead to three points on your driver’s license. The fines would go towards a public information program about the dangers of texting while driving.

Codey says, “Considering that studies have shown that texting behind the wheel is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than getting behind the wheel drunk, an update of our hands-free cell phone law is long overdue. I hope that those groups that have traditionally advocated against drunk driving will also come out in force for this bill.”