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New bill proposes tougher texting fines

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METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) -

The head of the Causeway Commission said Monday that rear-end collisions are on the rise on the bridge, and he believes texting may be the reason why. Now there's a bill in the Legislature that aims to beef up laws punishing those who text and drive.

If you've ever seen it, it's enough to send a chill up your spine.

"When you're driving next to them it's pretty scary," said driver Patrick Shaheen.

"Oh yeah, on the interstate - people swerving lanes because they're re too busy texting," said driver Joey Endler.

The FCC says 11 percent of drivers ages 18 to 20 involved in an accident admitted to texting at the time, and social media has only made things worse.

"My impression is, yes it's going up," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

There are laws already on the books, but they're about to get much tougher. A  state senator from Baton Rouge has proposed a bill that would nearly triple the fines for first offenders from $175 to $500. If you're caught after that, it's $1,000 for each violation.

"Anything that will help reinforce when you get behind the wheel you have to pay attention," Dufrechou said.

Dufrechou said it's hard to gauge whether accidents from texting and driving are up, but he said there are key indicators that are cause for concern. Last year, there were 175 crashes on the bridge, and of those, 65 involved drivers who rear-ended cars that had broken down.

"That tells me those people...had their heads down, whether texting or Cloud 9 we don't know," said Dufrechou.

The National Safety Council says texting and driving is causing 1.6 million accidents a year, and 11 teen deaths every day.

"I don't text and drive, but I look at my phone to pick a song," Shaheen admitted.

If penalties are beefed up, enforcement will likely remain a problem.

"Frankly, with difficulty, our officers have to observe someone to cite someone. If they don't want to show it to them, they can't look at it," Dufrechou said.

But he said his officers do what they can. Dufrechou says he would favor laws that would allow police to check phone records any time there's an accident to see if the driver was texting at the time. He believes increased punishment would help change driver texting habits, which all too often lead to accidents.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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