In the time it takes to type the average text message, the car you're driving could have hurtled at least the length of a football field all while your eyes were glued to your cell phone screen, according to the National Safety Council.

In the time it takes to type the average text message, the car you're driving could have hurtled at least the length of a football field all while your eyes were glued to your cell phone screen, according to the National Safety Council.


That's too much time for bad things to happen, said Marlborough Police Chief Mark Leonard.


"It's extremely dangerous and it's still hard to believe there's not a state law banning it," he said.


When Leonard heard about the Boston City Council's unanimous vote to make texting while driving in the Hub an offense subject to a $100 fine, he applauded the decision.


"It just makes sense to me," Leonard said. "But this is something that should have already been done statewide."


Leonard believes local ordinances like the one in Boston don't deliver enough of an impact.


"We may be able to pass something locally, but suppose a driver crosses over the Marlborough town line and into Hudson," he said. "What do we do then?"


Texting while driving is banned in 19 states according to the Governor's Highway Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety. The last state to enact a law was Rhode Island in November. Next up is New Hampshire, where a ban will take effect Jan. 1.


"My constituents shake their heads when they hear there is no law in the commonwealth banning the practice," said state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton. "Several years ago there was an elderly man in Ayer who was run down in a crosswalk by a driver who was texting.


"I heard he's OK now, but when will they learn?" Eldridge said.


The latest Bay State fatality resulting from texting while driving was a Tewksbury man who died in a single-car crash Dec. 13 in Lowell. But Leonard said it's hard for police to determine afterward if a driver was texting during an accident.


"We rarely get the admission from a driver that they were texting during a crash," he said. "Even if there are actual statistics out there, I'm sure the real number of crashes caused by texting is a lot higher.


"It's difficult to collect that data accurately."


A recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation department discovered other telling data when researchers determined that texting drivers face a collision risk 20 times greater than drivers who aren't distracted. Moreover, the study discovered that the practice keeps a driver's eyes away from the road for 4.6 seconds out of a 6-second interval, more than enough to prove the National Safety Council's football field comparison.


"There is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding texting while behind the wheel," said Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech research, in an e-mailed news release. "The findings from our research at VTTI will hopefully clear these misconceptions since it's based on real-world driving data."


Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said there are several texting while driving bills being considered right now on Beacon Hill.


"Cars can be weapons that cause fatalities," she said. "Hopefully something can get taken care of this year."


Eldridge said the last chance the state had to pass a law occurred in May when a Senate budget amendment passed that banned drivers from either writing or reading text messages. The amendment would have imposed a $75 fine and would have allowed insurance companies to assess a surcharge for drivers cited for the violation. However, when the bill moved to the House, the amendment was dropped.


When asked why a law has not yet been enacted, Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, said one reason was because the offense is almost impossible to prove.


"From a lawyer's perspective I think it's tough to determine if someone was texting," she said. "There also might be a freedom of speech issue there.


"It's not something I have personally taken a look at or pursued at this point."


Spilka said another reason might be reluctance by the state to encroach on the private space of citizens.


"I understand there's a lot of people who feel if we ban texting we'll ban other things, too," she said. "But the major issue is safety on the road, whether it's texting, eating, talking or picking up something that was dropped.


"I've even witnessed some people reading while driving."


Gregoire did point out there is a law prohibiting distracted driving.


"That does include texting since it would fall under that category," she said.


"Impeded operation is what that really means," said Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl. "Texting is not mentioned in the law but it's more or less included."


Carl added that his biggest concern is for young drivers.


"Texting is a way of life for them," he said. "To them it's natural and you always see kids walking while texting, bicycling while texting, and unfortunately, driving while texting."


Carl also wondered how many lawmakers are guilty of the offense.


"That's the funny thing," he said. "We're probably all guilty of it at some point, especially with all these Blackberrys, iPhones, and other gadgets that have become a way of life for some people, especially legislators."


Luckily for Framingham, Carl said he could not remember an instance when texting was cited as the reason for a serious car crash. In Marlborough, Chief Leonard could not recall if there were collisions resulting from texting.


"I just hope that some day if a bad accident happens in Marlborough because a driver was texting, we don't look back and think about what might have happened if there was a state law against (it)," said Leonard.


MetroWest Daily News writer Evan Lips can be reached at 508-490-7461 or elips@cnc.com