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Does Alaska's ban on texting while driving need strengthening?

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Federal regulators may be encouraging states to ban the use of all handheld electronics, smartphones, tablet computers and other devices from use by motorists, but in Alaska, a much weaker law is being tested in the state judiciary.

A state law that bans texting while driving -- but allows for making phone calls -- is facing a legal challenge from a magistrate in Kenai, according to the Associated Press. It follows other challenges to the law up in Fairbanks.

Magistrate Jennifer Wells refused to reconsider a decision she made in October, when she ruled that the state's ban on texting while driving is too ambiguous, the AP reports.

State lawmakers, including Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, dispute the magistrate's interpretation. Gruenberg said it's "loud and clear" that Alaska has outlawed the practice, The state will appeal her decision, the AP reports.

Here's what Wells said of the law in the AP report:

Whether the 25th Legislature did, indeed intend the statute to prohibit texting, or whether the statute has gotten that reputation because lawmakers and law enforcement wish this were true, is perhaps irrelevant," she wrote in her Dec. 1 decision. Since the law creates felony and misdemeanor penalties, "it is particularly important that the statute be clear.

Read more about the legal dust-up here. Read up on the National Transportation Safety Board's recent decision to recommend banning all electronic devices while driving here.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the "loud and clear" quote was attributed to Rep. Les Gara. We regret the error.