Indiana bills restricting cell phone use meet demise

| 4/14/2005

A pair of bills in Indiana that originally sought to require drivers to keep their hands off the phone are dead.

Sponsored by Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, and Sen. Rose Ann Antich-Carr, D-Merrillville, the measures called for banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would have still been permitted.

The efforts failed to come up for votes on the floors of their respective chambers prior to the deadline for bills to pass from their originating chambers.

Meanwhile, Summers’ bill would have made driver inattention a topic for a summer study.

The bill started out like the one offered by Antich-Carr as a straight ban on hand-held cell phone usage. But it was weakened in committee by Rep. Cleo Duncan, R-Greensburg, who said she did not want to single out phone users unfairly.

Cell phones, she told The Indianapolis Star, are simply part of a broader problem: distracted driving.

Indiana is one of 15 states this year to take up legislation to tighten regulations against the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles.

But with cell-phone related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, government officials are questioning why this particular behavior was chosen for a law. 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.

The cell phone bills were HB1508 and SB343.