Louisiana Senate OKs restricting drivers’ cell phone use

| 5/28/2008

The Louisiana Senate has approved bans on certain types of cell phone usage while driving.

One bill that was approved by a vote of 25-10 would outlaw text messaging while driving. Sponsored by Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, the measure – SB137 – also would prohibit the use of certain mobile devices by young drivers.

Handheld cell phones would be off-limits for drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses. An amendment made to the bill would continue to allow the use of hands-free devices.

It would be a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone or texting – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before he or she could be ticketed.

Violators would face fines up to $175. Repeat offenders would pay as much as $500. Wrecks caused from use of the wireless devices would result in double fines.

The Senate voted 33-2 to approve a separate bill – SB342 – that would prohibit cell phone use only for first-time drivers who have been licensed for less than a year. People with valid licenses who move to Louisiana from other states would be exempted.

Sponsored by Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livington, the measure only would authorize law enforcement to issue tickets for violations if vehicles are stopped for other reasons.

Offenders would face fines up to $150. They also would face the possibility of serving 16 hours of community service. Repeat offenders would face $500 fines and/or 24 hours of community service.

Both bills would make exceptions for emergency calls. They have moved to the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.

House lawmakers already have endorsed a stricter measure. Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, is the sponsor of a bill that would ban all drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

Badon’s bill – HB852 – would fine first-time offenders as much as $100. Repeat offenders would face up to $150 fines while third offenses would result in up to $200 fines. Subsequent violations would lead to as much as $250 fines.

Of particular interest to truckers, the measure would make exceptions for Qualcomm-type devices.

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 say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

Currently, at least 15 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only other states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. The New Jersey and Washington state laws also prohibit text messaging. Several other states are pursuing similar restrictions.

HB852 is in the Senate Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Louisiana in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor