Cell-phone restriction measure advances in California; others die in Louisiana

| 6/9/2006

The California Senate voted 21-14 to approve a bill that would require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones. It has been forwarded to the Assembly.

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

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the California bill would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

“The difference between hand-held and hands-free is life and death,” Simitian told The Sacramento Bee. This is the fourth consecutive year he has introduced the legislation.

Opponents contend that multiple national studies suggest that holding the phone isn’t the problem – talking on it is.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

The bill – SB1613 – would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would face $20 fines. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

In Louisiana, three bills that called for limiting cell phone use by drivers were killed.

The House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee voted 7-6 to kill a bill that would have banned hand-held cell phone use for all drivers. Like the California bill, it would have permitted the use of hands-free devices.

Sponsored by Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, the measure would have required law enforcement to pull over a driver for another violation before they cold be ticketed. The bill – HB321 – called for violators to face up to $25 fines.

The day before Smith’s bill was killed the full House narrowly rejected a bill that would have prohibited new drivers from using hand-held cell phones. Violators would have faced fines up to $225 and/or 24 hours of community service.

The bill – HB1013 – called for the restriction to be lifted after driver’s had their licenses for more than one year.

The Senate easily rejected a similar effort. The bill – SB164 – would have prohibited drivers under 17 and first-year license holders from chatting on the phone while behind the wheel.

Violators would have faced fines between $100 and $500 as well as a 90-day license suspension.

The Senate, however, approved a bill that would make the adult who gives an unlicensed minor the keys, and the young driver who gets behind the wheel, subject to fines and jail time. It’s been forwarded to the House for consideration.

Sponsored by Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, the bill specifies that if an adult allows an unlicensed driver under 18 to drive and the youth is involved in a wreck resulting in injury or death, the adult would face up to six months in jail and/or fines between $500 and $1,000.

Illegal drivers would face up to six months in jail and/or fines between $100 and $500 simply for driving without a license. If a youth is involved in a wreck that results in serious injury or death, they would face up to six months in jail and/or fines of $500 to $1,000.

Mount’s bill – SB222 – is awaiting consideration on the House floor.