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Published Sep. 9, 2009

It should be illegal to send text messages while driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, an organization of state highway safety officials, endorsed that position this week at its annual meeting.

The association was swayed by a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that indicated a trucker who is texting increases crash or near-crash risk by 23 times.

Eighteen states already or will soon ban texting while driving. Florida is not one of them. Even a state as conservative as Utah has a ban, and it treats texting drivers who kill someone the same as drunken drivers who do. Offenders can go to prison for 15 years.

Driving while talking on a cell phone is about as risky as drunken driving, studies show, and texting while driving doubles the danger.

Utah doesn't treat accidents caused by texting as "accidents" at all. Instead, Utah believes that texting drivers know the risk, willingly undertake it, and should therefore pay the penalty for their recklessness.

The Governors Highway Safety Association's decision is part of the evolving debate about "distracted driving," activities from texting to talking on cell phones that take drivers' attention from the task at hand - safely operating a motor vehicle.

The Legislature should ignore the pleas of telecommunications' lobbyists and outlaw cell phone use while driving. But a reasonable and immediate first step is a ban on texting behind the wheel. It will save lives.