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State highway safety chiefs call for handheld cell phone ban

Sept. 13, 2012

In a move that would make cell phone laws more equitable, the Governors Highway Safety Assn. (GHSA) has called for outlawing all handheld cell phone use while behind the wheel for all drivers in the nation, not just truckers.

Last week at GHSA’s annual meeting, the group broadened its support of distracted driving legislation to include a call for handheld bans for all drivers. Previously, the association supported text messaging bans for all drivers, as well as a total ban on electronic devices for novice and school bus drivers.

The National Safety Council has estimated that about 1.2 million accidents a year involve cell phones or texting and last year the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a total ban on using mobile devices to hold conversations or send text messages while driving.

A ban on handheld use could be the first step toward what GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha said is the real solution to the distracted driving problem: a ban on any cell phone use in moving vehicles.

“Passage of these laws will provide states a practical platform for discussing why any phone use while driving is dangerous,” she said.

Several studies have shown that requiring drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on their cell phones does little to minimize the distraction caused by a conversation.  And the inability to enforce texting bans in states where handheld cell phone use is allowed has been an issue, GHSA said. Often, in states without a handheld law, the driver will claim they were dialing when stopped by a law enforcement officer for texting. This has been the experience in California. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 460,487 statewide handheld cell phone convictions in 2011 while there were only 14,886 texting convictions.

However, recent enforcement demonstration projects sponsored by the Dept. of Transportation in New York and Connecticut have shown that a handheld cell phone ban can be enforced effectively and can reduce driver use of a cell phone.

“The resolution [the GHSA] passed reflects the commitment of state traffic safety officials to ending this dangerous behavior, and the critical role they play in passing and enforcing strong state laws banning distracted driving,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “With our partners in the states, we will continue to urge drivers to take personal responsibility for safety by putting their phone in the glove compartment and keeping their focus on the road.”

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