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Don’t Talk on Cellphones & Drive: States Placing Restrictions on CellPhone Use While Driving Print E-mail
by Roman Kikta    Tue, Apr 18, 2006, 09:05 PM

Cellular phones are without question one of the greatest, most useful inventions of the past quarter century. Today, there are over 200 million cellphone users in the U.S. alone, and the total number of subscribers is approaching 2 billion worldwide. With the proliferation of camera phones and wireless internet access in your pocket, these mobile devices have forever changed our world.

As useful as these devices have proven to be with their immediate connectivity to business colleagues, friends and family, they have alternatively do to lack of common sense and courtesy by some in using these devices in a vehicle proving to be a deadly distraction contributing to auto crashes. Let me be clear, cell phones aren't the issue -- People are. Unnecessary mobile talk is increasingly fatal, even when carried on hands-free, according to the latest studies.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article addressing what safety experts say can be a deadly distraction, many states ( Texas included) are scrambling to impose restrictions on cellphone use by drivers. Did you know that in Texas, teens are barred from using cellphones while driving? Obviously someone forget to mention that to our nation of Gen-Y users of cellphone and i-pods.... The number of crashes in which cellphones was a factor has doubled over the past couple of years even though people don't always own up to the fact that they were talking on the cellphone.   

Some law-enforcement experts say it is not clear that restrictions on cellphones are having an effect on the number of accidents; others say it is hard to enforce the restrictions.   Last month, West Virginia barred hands-free or hand-held cellphone use by teenage drivers or anyone with a learner's permit who doesn't yet have a driver's license. Such prohibitions affecting novice drivers are often a first step state lawmakers consider, experts say. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have written legislation on the issue, mostly since 2003. This year, other legislatures are tackling the subject, and two states have passed laws on it.

In states without laws, a number of municipalities have passed their own local restrictions. For example, Shelby Township , Michigan has an ordinance that makes it a civil violation to drive and use a cellphone. Now, after a fatal car crash in Macomb County in February, the state legislature is considering a law.

While no state has banned talking on a cellphone while driving, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington , D.C. , have the most restrictive laws: Except in emergencies, motorists in those states can use cellphones only with hands-free devices, such as earpieces. Restrictions vary across other states. Some prohibit teenagers, bus drivers and drivers with learning permits from using cellphones -- even with earpieces.

More than a dozen states have laws that aren't specific to cellphone use but target behaviors that can distract drivers, such as reading, grooming or talking on the telephone. Under these laws, drivers face a misdemeanor charge and possible fines up to $1,000 if cellphone use is a factor in an accident.

Enforcement approaches also differ among states. In some, improper cellphone use is a primary offense, meaning that police officers spotting a potential violation have the authority to stop and ticket drivers. In others, such as New Jersey, it is a secondary offense; police officers can fine drivers for improper cellphone use only if they are pulled over for another traffic violation, like speeding. New Jersey lawmakers are moving this year to make cellphone violations a primary offense.  Enforcing the laws remains a challenge, in part because police don't always spot drivers using cellphones.  In the District of Columbia, where a tough cellphone law went into effect in 2004, police issued 6,018 tickets in 2005. District officials say that shows police are enforcing the new law.

Penalties differ as well. In New York , drivers caught using phones without hands-free devices may be fined as much as $100. In New Jersey , violators face fines of as much as $250. Proponents of laws restricting cellphone use by drivers say the devices increasingly pose a safety threat. I agree, especially after almost being run over in the shopping center by a driver backing out of a parking space while holding a cellphone to their ear chatting away.  In the mean time, let's all show some common sense and etiquette by putting the phone down or removing the headset/earplugs of the i-pod when backing out.

I’d like to hear your comments.

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