Arkansas bills target cell phones in vehicles, loose truck loads

| 1/2/2007

If an Arkansas lawmaker gets his way, the state will join the list of other states that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

State Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, has introduced two bills intended to ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a "hands-free" accessory would still be permitted.

The first bill - SB6 - would require drivers to possess a hands-free device in their vehicles when using a cell phone. The second bill - SB7 - would require drivers to use a hands-free device when talking on the cell phone.

Drivers stopped for another offense who are found to be in violation of the proposed rules would get off with a citation as a warning for the first offense. No penalty would be imposed.

Additional offenses could net offenders a fine up to $50.

The bills include exemptions for emergency calls.

Hendren told KTHV-TV in Little Rock he offered the different bills because he didn't know if there was enough support for a stricter ban on cell phone use in vehicles.

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 its own rule.

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.

A separate bill by Hendren would get tough with anyone who fails to cover certain loads of loose material.

The bill - SB8 - would require a motor vehicle or trailer with an open bed and transporting gravel or rock on paved public streets or highways to secure such loads with a cover as to "prevent the load from dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping."

Hendren's bills are expected to come up for consideration during the session that begins Jan. 8.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor