Minnesota bill targets chatty drivers

| Friday, January 21, 2005

A bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature would require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, the proposal would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

The bill would exempt emergency calls.

The devices’ use is frequently blamed for distracting drivers and leading to accidents.

Jaros cited a 1997 study by the New England Journal of Medicine showing drivers chatting on cell phones were four times more likely to be in a collision – about the same as the increase caused by drunken driving.

AAA opposes laws restricting cell-phone use by drivers. The automotive association recommends that drivers avoid “emotional or complicated phone conversations.” AAA cites the safety benefits of a cell phone in the vehicle in its reasoning for opposing bans.

Currently, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. Several states, however, are expected to address the issue in the coming months.

A spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently told The Associated Press the governor feels inattentive driving, such as cell phone use, is a serious concern, and he will be working with public safety officials to find ways for people to take it more seriously.

HF18 is in the House Transportation Committee.

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