Louisiana lawmakers OK limiting drivers’ cell phone use, texting

| 6/26/2008

The Louisiana Legislature has sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal multiple bills intended to limit driver distractions.

On the final day of their regular session, House and Senate lawmakers voted to approve three measures to restrict use of mobile communication devices. One bill focuses on drivers younger than 18. Sponsored by Sen. Don Cravins Jr., D-Opelousas, the measure would prohibit young drivers from using all cell phones while behind the wheel.

Restrictions would not apply to adults. A conference committee agreed to delete a provision in the bill that would have allowed young drivers to use hands-free devices.

Cravins’ bill – SB159 – would authorize fines up to $100. Repeat offenders would face up to $250 fines. The fines would double if cell phone use was determined to be a factor in a wreck.

Another provision would outlaw text messaging while driving. It also is included in a separate bill forwarded to the governor, which would prohibit cell phone use by young drivers.

Sponsored by Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, the measure – SB137 – would make hand-held and hands-free devices off-limits for drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses.

Violators would face fines up to $175. Repeat offenders would pay as much as $500. As is the case in Cravins’ bill, wrecks caused from use of the wireless devices would result in double fines.

Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, is the sponsor of one more cell phone bill that cleared both chambers. The measure – SB342 – 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.

Offenders would face up to $100 fines. They also would face the possibility of serving 16 hours of community service. Repeat offenders would face $250 fines and/or 24 hours of community service.

All three bills would make violations a secondary offense, meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed.

Each bill also would make exceptions for emergency calls or sending emergency text messages. Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios and other similar devices also would be exempted.

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, other 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 states that ban on all drivers from using hand-held phones. The New Jersey and Washington state laws also prohibit text messaging. Minnesota recently approved its own ban on text messaging.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor