Cell phone restriction rejected by Arkansas Senate

| Friday, March 04, 2005

The Arkansas Senate rejected a bill Feb. 28 to require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones.

Senators voted 11-6 against the bill – 18 votes were required for approval.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, the legislation would have banned 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 would have to have been pulled over for a different offense to be cited for using a hand-held phone.

Chatty drivers would get off with a warning for the first offense. Repeat violations would cost offenders up to $50.

Hendren’s bill exempted emergency calls.

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

He said he wasn’t 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.”

Sen. Ruth Whitaker, R-Cedarville, voted against the bill. She said motorists who are distracted by a cell phone while driving have a personal responsibility to either turn it off or pull off the road to talk on their phone.

“I think common sense really can handle this,” Whitaker said.

Another bill by Hendren also failed.

In a 13-4 vote that fell five votes shy of the 18 required for passage, the Senate failed to approve a bill that sought to require a motor vehicle or trailer with an open bed and transporting sand, gravel, rock or brick on a paved public street or highway to display a telephone number to call to report damage or injury caused by a load carried by the motor vehicle or trailer.

SB35 would have required the telephone number to be displayed on the back of the vehicle or trailer and be “clearly visible” at least 30 feet away.

But Sen. Barbara Horn, D-Foreman, told the newspaper it’s often a rock on the road – not a rock from a truck – that breaks motorists’ windshields.

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