Arkansas bill would restrict drivers' use of cell phones

| 1/25/2005

If an Arkansas lawmaker gets his way, the state would join the list of other states that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

State Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, has introduced legislation that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted.

Under the bill – SB45 – a driver stopped for using a hand-held phone would get off with a citation as a warning for the first offense. No penalty would be imposed.

Additional offenses could net the offender a fine up to $50.

Hendren’s bill would exempt emergency calls.

Hendren told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette requiring hands-free devices for drivers would increase safety on the state’s congested highways.

He said he’s not trying to outlaw cell phone use while driving, but he fears the federal government will try to do that “if we don’t do our best to use this safely.”

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.

But with cell-phone related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, even government officials wonder why this particular behavior was chosen for a law, since studies have shown that hands-free and hand-held cell phones are equally distracting.

“We’ve evaluated and come to the conclusion that hands-free use is just as risky or perhaps riskier than hand-held phones because it’s the cognitive distraction that can compromise driving” Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told The New York Times.

Tyson said research within his agency and outside, along with driving simulations, found that it was the talking on a cell phone while driving that was distracting, and that therefore cell phones should be used only in emergencies.