Effort to restrict cell phone use in vehicles nixed in Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to require all drivers in the state to keep their hands off the phone has been sidelined.

A provision was added to a bill in the Senate that called for banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. The effort was approved this past week by a vote of 33-16. However, House lawmakers later removed the provision from the bill - HB1631 - essentially killing its chances of becoming law before the regular session wraps up Thursday, Nov. 30.

The cell-phone provision allowed for drivers to talk on phones equipped with a "hands-free" device.

Backed by Gov. Ed Rendell, violators would have faced $250 fines. They could only have been pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could have been ticketed for talking on the phone.

Emergency calls would have been exempted.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, has vowed to revive the effort during the new session that begins Jan. 2.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California is slated to implement their own rule.

Shapiro said restrictions are needed in Pennsylvania because the use of hand-held cell phones contributed to nearly 1,200 crashes in the state in 2004.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

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