Transportation and Telecommunications

Increased penalties for distracted driving, speeding considered

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony Feb. 27 on a bill intended to deter distracted driving and speeding.

Sen. Kathleen Kauth
Sen. Kathleen Kauth

Omaha Sen. Kathleen Kauth, sponsor of LB1340, said current penalties are not severe enough to discourage dangerous driving. Speeding has become a “significant” problem in the Omaha area, she said, with many motorists cited for driving more than 35 miles per hour over the limit.

Under LB1340, which would increase fines for speeding on highways or freeways, a driver would be guilty of a Class I misdemeanor if the violation involved traveling more than 35 miles per hour over the limit.

“That provides the opportunity to remove the speeder from the road at that moment rather than simply ticketing him or her and letting them drive away,” Kauth said.

Under current law, a person who unintentionally kills another while operating a motor vehicle in violation of state law or city or village ordinance commits motor vehicle homicide. As introduced, LB1340 would make motor vehicle homicide a Class III felony if the proximate cause of the death is texting while driving.

Kauth said a proposed amendment also would increase the penalty for motor vehicle homicide from a Class I misdemeanor, which she said carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, to a Class IV felony, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Testifying in support of the bill was Kim Latacha of Omaha, who said her husband was killed by a distracted driver while riding his bicycle last year. Because the driver had no prior convictions, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was not driving recklessly or with a revoked license, she said, he was charged with a misdemeanor.

“‘Misdemeanor’ and ‘homicide’ should not occur together,” Latacha said. “Negligence which results in the death of an innocent person should carry a stronger penalty than a $1,000 fine.”

Spike Eickholt testified in opposition to LB1340 on behalf of ACLU Nebraska and the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association. He said criminal penalties should be proportionate to a defendant’s criminal intent.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Bookmark and Share