A bill that would ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones was debated and passed through the North Carolina Senate Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
The bill would modify a law passed in 2006 that prohibits school bus drivers and drivers under 18 years old from using both hand-held and hands-free cell phones while operating a motor vehicle, except during an emergency situation. The new bill, proposed by Sen. Charlie Dannelly, the democrat from Mecklenburg County, would extend the regulation to include all drivers in vehicles with motors running, though adults would be allowed to use hands-free devices.
According to the Associated Press, Dannelly introduced the new legislation as “a bill of common sense.”
The bill passed through committee by a narrow margin, and was amended with a reduced fine of $25, down from $100, and an exception for calls to 911 and family members during times of emergency. The bill will now be sent to the N.C. congress for debate.
Some students have expressed a positive reaction to the bill.
“I’ve always been opposed to driving with cell phones ever since they became popular,” said Kyle Marks, a senior majoring in computer science. “I mostly refuse to answer my own phone while in the car, and if there is another person with me, they get to answer my phone for me. Take it from someone that has flipped and wreaked a car: a little distraction is a big problem, and even if answering a cell phone while driving a car is a convenience, it’s hardly worth the amount it lowers your ability to safely drive.”
Other students raised criticism of some aspects of the proposed legislation.
“I think the fact [that] it applies to vehicles with their motors running is wrong. That would mean that you could be parked and still in violation of the law,” said Adam Crisp, a senior majoring in English.
Joel Marchesoni, a junior majoring in computer science, raised another concern. “I hope that the law will extend to police officers as well, because I see them using their phones as often as I do civilians,” Marchesoni said. “I understand that they have to have them, but talking on a phone is just as distracting to them as it is to you or I, and speaker systems are not too expensive.”
In studies compiled for a 2001 report by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, cell phone use while driving was shown to increase crash risk by 34 to 300 percent. The report also found that both hand-held and hands-free devices led to decreased reaction time.
In 2001, two similar bills banning hand-held cell phones, HB 62 and HB 74, were proposed but rejected in committee.
Hand-held cell phone bans have been passed in five states-California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington– as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Seventeen states, including North Carolina, have banned school bus drivers from using any form of cell phone.
AAA Carolina has come out in support of the bill, though other groups, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, who feel the use of some voice-activated and touch-screen technologies would be affected by the ban, have expressed disapproval.
A hand-held cell phone ban was also proposed last week to the Maine Senate committee, but failed to pass.