New law in North Carolina bans cell-phone use for young drivers

| 11/30/2006

Starting this week young drivers in North Carolina are required to hang up their cell phones and drive. Other drivers soon could face the same restrictions.

The new law, which was signed this summer by Gov. Mike Easley is intended to address concerns about motor vehicle accidents that are the leading cause of death for North Carolina teens age 15 to 17, The Associated Press reported. According to recent studies, motorists who use cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a vehicle collision.

As of Friday, Dec. 1, drivers under age 18 are prohibited from talking on any cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, while behind the wheel. North Carolina has a graduated licensing program for young drivers, and in addition to a $25 fine, violators face a six-month extension to their graduated licenses.

No additional insurance points will be added for an infraction and teens will be allowed to call parents, their spouse or make emergency phone calls.

The new law, previously SB1289, gained widespread support in the Legislature despite concerns from opponents who said it's unfair to single out young people when drivers of all ages can be distracted by phones and other things. Others said teens should still be allowed to use hands-free devices.

Easley said the new law sets an important standard for teens to follow.

"While all our motorists should avoid distractions and focus on driving safely and navigating traffic, this law is particularly important to our young drivers who are just learning the rules of the road," Easley said in a written statement.

Currently, about a dozen states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Only Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones.

The ban on all drivers could soon become reality in North Carolina as well. Earlier this year, lawmakers in the state sought to approve such a ban.

Robert Foss, a senior research scientist with the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, predicts similar efforts will continue to be brought up for lawmakers to consider.

"A decade from now, talking on the phone while driving will just not be allowed anywhere," Foss told The News & Observer.