State House Memo: Time to restrict cell phones while driving
The Senate Transportation Committee is now considering House Bill 1360, legislation that would restrict the use of cell phones and other electronic communication devices while driving in New Hampshire.
This bill, which passed the House by a vote of 192-133, is the result of extensive study and deliberation by House Transportation Committee members who worked hard to bring forward a measure that would curb the unsafe behavior of way too many drivers in our state.
HB 1360 as amended was the product of three bills initially introduced to address the desire of many New Hampshire voters to restrict the use of hand-held cell phones and other such devices while driving. As prime sponsors of two of these three bills, we were responding directly to constituent concerns that too many people are driving inattentively while engaged in cell phone, text and other forms of electronic communication while navigating their 3,000-plus pound vehicles on our streets and highways.
Every day we can see drivers using hand-held devices, virtually oblivious to their surroundings while moving between and among others cars, trucks and motorcycles traveling 65 miles per hour or more.
The work of the House Transportation Committee to craft a law with the greatest promise for enforceability was greatly enhanced by testimony and input from a large number of highway safety experts and telecommunications specialists who have all come together in support of this bill. While New Hampshire has a “texting while driving” prohibition, enforcement is virtually nonexistent.
In fact, of more than 100,000 traffic citations issued by the state police last year, fewer than 16 were for texting while driving, according to Lt. Matthew Shapiro of the Highway Safety Division of the state police.
Typically, this offense can be confirmed only following a motor vehicle crash, of which several in past months have resulted in fatalities due to the motor vehicle operator’s inattention. This was sadly the case last Dec. 23 when John Bachman of Amherst, a dedicated public servant and well-respected friend and neighbor, was killed by an inattentive driver who was texting while driving; Bachman was simply in front of his own home retrieving the day’s mail.
HB 1360 makes clear and logical sense to us and to many others that drivers should at all times be focused on the road ahead of them and that their full attention should be on their immediate surroundings, to assure safe passage for not only themselves and their passengers, but also for their fellow travelers.
We encourage the Senate Transportation Committee to recommend that the full Senate pass HB 1360 and urge voters throughout the state to contact their senators in support of this common-sense bill that will enhance the safety of all who travel on New Hampshire roads, streets and highways.
(State Reps. Sylvia Gale and Jan Schmidt are Democrats from Nashua.)