Kentucky bills would limit driver distractions

| 12/3/2008

In preparation for the start of the upcoming regular session in Kentucky, lawmakers are prefiling legislation they are hopeful will wind its way through the statehouse. Two efforts are intended to reduce driver distractions.

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, has offered a bill – HB41 – that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device would still be permitted.

The bill 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. Starting Jan. 1, 2010, offenders would face fines between $20 and $100.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls and the use of citizens band radios.

Supporters of limiting driver distractions point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency contends that “distractions,” such as cell phones, contribute to as many as 30 percent of all wrecks.

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.

Others say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. The California, New Jersey and Washington state laws also prohibit text messaging. Alaska and Minnesota recently approved their own bans on text messaging.

Another prefiled measure – HB46 – would focus on Kentucky’s youngest drivers. Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, has offered a bill that would prohibit drivers under age 18 from using any wireless devices, hand-held or hands-free. The restriction would apply to cell phone use and text messaging.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls. As of Jan. 1, 2010, violators would face fines from $20 to $100.

The restriction would apply to young drivers of vehicles, motorcycles or mopeds.

All legislation can be considered during the session that starts Jan. 6, 2009.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Kentucky, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor