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Several States Use Twitter For Traffic Updates Despite Texting Ban

September 20, 2009

In several hip, high technology states, using Twitter to receive updates on road conditions could get you in trouble with the law. Safety experts and politicians have called this mixed signal hazardous and confusing.

At least 22 states that have made texting while driving illegal also provide services that let motorists receive data about traffic, road conditions or emergencies on Twitter.

“You shouldn’t be fiddling around with any kind of electronic gadget in your car while driving,” insists Minnesota State Rep. Frank Hornstein, who co-wrote the state’s no-texting-while-driving law.

Many of these laws prohibit people from using smart phones in any way while driving. Several supporters of anti text-messaging laws think states that give traffic data on Twitter are sending mixed messages.

“I would guess that the states wouldn’t intend to be sending a mixed message, but it sounds like it could be a mixed message,” Judie Stone, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the Associated Press.

However, state transportation officials insist that these are not mixed messages for drivers. The tweets are to be read prior to driving.

In Washington, tweets include reminders to stay off the phone when driving. “Know before you go,” said a posting this week.

Drivers ought to “check our Web site before leaving. If you’re at your office, before you leave and there’s an issue on the roadway, it might alter your travel plans home,” Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department told AP.

States that post traffic information on Twitter include: California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The conflict comes from good intentions: transportation departments that want motorists to have information about traffic, but lawmakers are concerned about distracted drivers.

“We don’t want people reading their tweets while they’re driving,” said Sally Ridenour, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In Washington, the 6,200 users can also ask for travel times, mountain pass data and check in times at the Canadian border. Other users just like to discuss various topics.

“If you’re sitting there and trying to update the world on the congestion you’re in, you could be part of a collision,” noted Fairley Mahlum, spokeswoman for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Did it really matter that you needed to tell everyone and their brother what the situation is? It’s just not really not worth it.”

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