Tapping out text messages and scrolling through e-mail while behind the wheel has been banned in Washington, the first U.S. state to threaten drivers with fines for the safety violation.

Drivers must also use a hands-free device for their cellphones under the new measure, which Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law on Friday and comes into effect next year. Offending drivers will be fined $124 US.

Gregoire concedes the violations will be difficult to monitor, since police will not have the authority to pull over a driver spotted sending a text message. A fine can only be issued if a driver is caught while committing a more serious infraction.

Oregon, Arizona and New Jersey are contemplating introducing similar bans on texting while driving.

In Canada, the use of handheld phones while driving is prohibited only in Newfoundland and Labrador, although the law does allow drivers to use hands-free headsets.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, 80 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by distracted drivers.

The issue of multi-tasking drivers is cause for concern for many Canadians, as shown in a January Insurance Bureau of Canadapoll thatsuggested nearly 90 per cent of people were worried about distracted drivers chatting on their cellphones, eating a snack or applying lipstick.