Kentucky bill dies; would have restricted drivers’ cell phone use

| 4/3/2008

An effort in the Kentucky House to require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones will have to wait at least another year for approval.

The House Transportation Committee voted to table the bill. The move effectively killed it for the year.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, the measure – HB56 – called for banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device would still have been permitted.

The bill would have made it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before he or she could be ticketed for talking on the phone. First-time offenders would have received warnings. Repeat offenders would have faced fines between $20 and $100.

It exempted emergency calls and the use of citizens band radios.

Supporters of limiting driver distractions point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency contends that “distractions,” such as cell phones, contribute to as many as 30 percent of all traffic wrecks.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

Others said lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California and Washington are slated to implement their own rules. Several other states are pursuing similar restrictions.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Kentucky, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor