Writing state law requires a delicate balance. Legislators have to know when they should do something and when they should leave things alone.

This year, Maine’s lawmakers should be doing a little of each when it comes to making our roads safer. But so far they seem to be getting off to a bad start.

The question of whether Maine should change its seat belt law, making failure to wear one a secondary offense that cannot lead to a traffic stop, is up for debate. This is a case that cries out for inaction, although the state Senate has given preliminary approval to such a bill.

But when it comes to banning text messaging by drivers, a bill that was the subject of a public hearing Tuesday, it’s time for legislators to act. They should make texting a civil infraction so police can stop and summons drivers who not only risk their own lives, but the lives of others on the road.

The state has had a so-called primary seat belt law since 2009, and enforcing it brings in a significant amount of revenue. With a budget as tight as Maine’s, no amount of income should be discarded — but that is not the reason to preserve the law.

The real reason is that it saves lives. Study after study shows that people are more likely to survive a crash if they are wearing a seat belt. They are also more likely to stay in position to control a spinning vehicle, avoiding or minimizing a crash. But because of a quirk of human nature, some people are more likely to buckle up to avoid a ticket than because it is good for them.

What’s the reason to weaken the law? The bill’s sponsor puts it this way:

“Deep down in my core, I am a libertarian at heart,” said Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells. “I like having a choice whether I want to buckle up or not.”

If Collins were only driving around on his own property and not interacting with the rest of society, he should have that choice. But the results of bad choices by drivers affect everyone who pays insurance premiums in our state, and not just the libertarians who choose to eschew wearing a seat belt. Driving, after all, is not a right but a privilege, and it is not an intrusion into personal liberty to put restrictions on operating a vehicle on public roads.

Which is why the Legislature should act on the issue of texting while driving.

Distracted driving is already against the law, but unlike failure to wear a seat belt, it can only be punished after a driver is involved in a crash or a moving violation. When it comes to typing a text message, that’s too late.

Opponents of the bill argue that texting is just another distraction and should be treated no differently than putting on makeup or eating a sandwich.

But texting is different. As pointed out by Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, at Tuesday’s hearing, there are many ways that a driver can be distracted. He can take his eyes off the road, he can take his hands off the wheel and he can take his mind off what he’s doing. Texting does all three at once, meaning it should get special treatment.

And unlike eating or changing a radio station, which are totally within the discretion of the driver, a cell phone can ring to announce an incoming text at any time, sent by someone who has no idea what road conditions the driver faces. A driver can put down his sandwich during a snow squall, but he can’t stop a text from coming.

And studies show that electronic communications can be impossible for some people to ignore.

“Make no mistake about it — texting is an addiction,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the bill’s sponsor. “And like any addiction, people are going to do it wherever they can or wherever they have to, whether you’re driving down a busy street in a small town, or whether you’re going 75 miles an hour down the turnpike.”

The hallmark of behavior we consider addictive is that people lose control over the habit. If they can’t control themselves and then put the public at risk, the law should step in.

The Legislature should do what it takes to make the roads safer in Maine. This year, that will involve knowing when to do something and when to leave things alone.