New Louisiana laws limit drivers’ cell phone use, texting

| 7/10/2008

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed multiple measures into law in Louisiana that are intended to limit driver distractions. The three bills affecting the use of mobile communication devices while driving took effect July 1.

One new law, previously SB159, focuses on drivers younger than 18. It prohibits affected drivers from using cell phones. Violators would face up to $100 fines. Repeat offenders would face up to $250 fines. The fines would double if cell phone use is determined to be a factor in a wreck.

Another provision outlaws young drivers from text messaging while driving. The texting ban applies to all drivers in another bill signed into law, which also prohibits cell phone use by young drivers.

Previously SB137, the new law makes 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 the first law, wrecks caused from use of the wireless devices would result in double fines.

One more bill signed into law by Jindal – SB342 – prohibits 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 are 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 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 makes exceptions for emergency calls or sending emergency texts. Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios and other similar devices also are 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, 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 states that have bans 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