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cellphone use while driving

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Is there any states that ban the use of cellphones while driving? If so, when were the laws instituted?


Senior Member
jakracing said:
Is there any states that ban the use of cellphones while driving? If so, when were the laws instituted?
My response:

A movement to restrict using a cell phone while driving is gaining momentum across the country as city councils and state legislatures contemplate whether to regulate a habit that's becoming as common as tuning the car radio.

The cell-phone debate

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In recent weeks, two such laws have passed in as many days. Suffolk County, N.Y., became what is believed to be the first county and largest community in the nation to ban motorists from talking on a mobile phone while driving.

The law, which passed Oct. 3 and still must be approved by the county executive, would fine drivers $150 for using a cell phone. Exceptions would allow using an earpiece or other hands-free attachment, as well as dialing or answering a call and making 911 calls. Two days later, the town of Carteret, N.J., passed a similar law, prohibiting motorists from using a hand-held phone under threat of a $250 penalty.

With more than 103 million wireless phone users in the United States, the debate over the safety of using cell phones while driving has reached a fever pitch. Since March 1999, at least eight municipalities have enacted or are likely to pass restrictions on the use of such phones, experts say.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held public forums to examine the issue this summer, and Massachusetts state legislators held hearings on the subject just last week.

As many as 300 cities are believed to have considered such restrictions. And last month, Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier in the country, became the first in its industry to publicly support state legislation requiring cell phone users to use hands-free devices while behind the wheel.

In Brooklyn, Ohio, the first city to ban using a handheld cell phone while driving, the fines for a first offense are only $3, escalating as high as $100 if a driver gets caught a second time.

Though more than 300 citations have been handed out since September 1999, there have been no repeat offenders.

''I can't put a number on it,'' says Brooklyn Patrolman Rich Hovan about any deaths prevented by the law. But ''if we save one life, I think we've got a victory here.''

Few states have restrictions

Although 37 states have considered such laws since 1995, only California, Massachusetts and Florida have minor restrictions about cell phones in cars, and no state currently bans using the phones while driving, said Matt Sundeen of the National Conference of State Legislatures' transportation program. Currently, 15 states restrict the use of headsets in cars, Sundeen says, which could hamper efforts to encourage drivers to use hand-free devices for their phones.

''My position is that I think the states should be doing something about it,'' says James Failace, mayor of Carteret, N.J. ''Since they're not, the municipalities will do something about it and maybe if enough do it, the states will make a move.''

Several studies show the risk of having an accident increases if the driver is on a cell phone. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1997 showed that motorists were four times more likely to crash when using cell phones.

And a 1999 report by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida found existing studies show the chances of having an accident while driving and talking on a mobile phone increased anywhere from 34% to more than 300%.

But the push to restrict the use of cell phones on the road also has motivations far more personal. Though the movement is not yet on the scale of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, many communities such as Suffolk County, which includes the tony Hamptons on Long Island, passed laws in the wake of fatalities caused when a driver was using a cell phone, experts say. There are growing fears in general about the rising tide of technology, from fax machines to navigation systems, showing up in cars.

And though mobile phones have been in use since the mid-1980s, their ubiquity has triggered a backlash by some who've grown tired of people dialing up in restaurants and especially when attention should be on the road.

''I don't want to see them banned from a car, I want to see them banned from moving vehicles,'' says Mardy Burns, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in 1997 when the driver of a car she was in reached for a fallen cell phone and ran off the road in Leawood, Kan.

Burns, a member of the national organization Advocates For Cell Phone Safety, says that whether it's a handheld or hands-free cell phone ''you still have the distraction of a conversation with either one.''

''And if your head is not on the road where it should be, you're still going to have that accident,'' Burns says.

Lack of data

But one stumbling block to legislation has been the dearth of information about exactly how many crashes are caused because a driver was using a mobile phone. ''You're not going to outlaw the use of cell phones in America; it's too much a part of our culture,'' says Sue Bailey, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. ''But we need to find ways to appropriately determine its impact on safety on the highways.''

Currently six states — Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — collect data on cell phone use and accidents, Sundeen says. But experts say some data may be misleading, with police noting the presence of a cell phone, for example, though it may not have been in use. With reckless-driving laws enforced around the country, foes argue there is no need to single out cell phone use. Some contend that town-by-town restrictions are confusing and unfair. And industry officials argue there is no hard evidence proving that using a cell phone is more hazardous than other distractions such as putting on make-up or talking to a passenger. ''We believe education and not legislation would prove more beneficial in raising public awareness,'' says Dee Yankoskie of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. ''And we're also overlooking the benefits of having a cell phone. More than 118,000 calls are made per day on a wireless phone to 911, so they're very beneficial for drivers to have.''

But others contend that cell phones can be distracting. ''It's very different from talking to someone beside you,'' says Mark Burris of the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research. ''Because that person is looking at the same road and same dangers the driver is and can even alert the driver to the possible dangers.''


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