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Lawmakers to consider cell phone use behind the wheel – again

Next month, lawmakers will consider – for at least the ninth time in 14 years – prohibiting drivers from talking or reading text messages on a cell phone while driving unless they use a hands-free device. With regret, sponsors believe the mounting number of cell phone-related accidents may make their legislative fight easier this time around.

“Just look at the number of fatalities in the last week and a half,” said Rep. Sylvia Gale, a Nashua Democrat sponsoring one of two bills dealing with cell phone use this session. “What more do you want?”

Just before Christmas, a retired fire chief from Amherst was killed while getting his mail when he was hit by a 20-year-old man who told the police he was texting while driving. The driver, Travis Hobbs of Mont Vernon, has been charged with negligent homicide. That same week, a Brookline mother of three was killed when her SUV was rear-ended by a truck driven by 31-year-old Greg Cullen of Milford, the police said. The police have ruled out speed and alcohol as factors and said they are investigating whether cell phone usage or another type of distracted driving played a role.

There are almost no restrictions on cell phone use behind the wheel in New Hampshire, and in that regard, New Hampshire is not unusual. Only 12 states have adopted the hands-free cell phone law that New Hampshire lawmakers will consider next year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Gale’s bill focuses only on cell phone use. The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Portsmouth Democrat, aims to prohibit all forms of distracted driving but identifies cell phone, video game and computer use as particular offenses.

The exception to New Hampshire’s lack of cell phone restrictions dates to 2009, when lawmakers made it illegal to compose a text message while driving; 40 other states have done the same, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. But the New Hampshire law does not prohibit drivers from reading a text message while driving.

That distinction, however, is before the state Supreme Court, which is considering the appeal of Chad Belleville of Barnstead, who is serving 3½ to seven years in prison for vehicular assault and second-degree assault. According to court records, Belleville looked down at his cell phone in December 2010 to read a text message just before he veered across the center line and hit an oncoming car.

At oral arguments in October, Belleville’s lawyer, David Rothstein, told the justices, “I don’t know that looking down at your cell phone is different than looking back at your kids who spit up while you’re driving.” The court has not issued its opinion.

The two bills going before lawmakers would not only make Belleville’s actions more clearly illegal but also make it easier for the police to intervene when they suspect prohibited cell phone use.

Gale’s bill would prohibit anyone except police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel responding to an emergency situation from holding a cell phone while driving. Making calls via bluetooth technology, which allows drivers to place and have conversations without touching a phone, would be allowed. Violators could be fined up to $100.

The police have charged drivers with reckless driving or even negligent homicide in cases where drivers were using cell phones while driving. Lynne Dion of Franklin is serving a one- to three-year sentence for fatally hitting a woman while the woman was in a Franklin crosswalk. Dion was talking on her cell phone just before the crash, the police said.

Gale said her bill would make it easier for the police to stop illegal – and potentially dangerous – cell phone use before an accident. The proposed legislation says, “An operator of a motor vehicle who holds a cellular telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, his or her ear while such vehicle is in motion, is presumed to be engaging in a call within the meaning of this section.”

Gale said she sponsored the bill at the request of a constituent who said he had been put in danger by drivers distracted by their cell phones. Rep. Sally Kelly, a Chichester Democrat, decided to co-sponsor the bill in part because of injuries she suffered in 2009 when another driver hit her head-on on Route 4. Kelly broke several bones and used a wheelchair for months, she said.

“It’s frustrating when I see the increase in fatalities,” she said. “We are doing way too many things while we are driving, myself included. Not speaking on the phone (while driving) is the best, but the reality is . . . we can’t be that separated from our communications. We feel compelled to talk on the phone in the car.”

Requiring that those conversations be done hands-free is a compromise that will make people safer, she said.

Pantelakos’s bill would also require drivers to use a hands-free device to communicate while driving. The exception would be drivers under 18, who would be banned from using any cell phone, hands-free or not.

She and her co-sponsors have tried to cover a wide variety of distracting devices in their bill, including “a mobile telephone, a text messaging device, a paging device, a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, electronic equipment that is capable of playing a video game or digital video disk, equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted, or any combination thereof, or equipment that is capable of visually receiving a television broadcast.”

Pantelakos has tried before to pass similar legislation. Lawmakers have defeated limitations on cell phone use seven times since 2000, some of them efforts sponsored by Pantelakos. She has worked with police officials on this bill and hopes her colleagues share her concerns about driving safety enough to pass a bill this time.

“We put a little bit of everything (in this bill) because it’s time to stop texting and to stop talking while driving,” she said. “I know people say we ‘live free or die’ in New Hampshire. But this isn’t what that motto meant.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Legacy Comments38

We already have laws that cover everything - It is illegal to drive impaired or distracted - that covers it. Each case is different. Just because a liberal cant walk and chew gum does not mean a new law of the day to cover the flavor of the day is prudent. I will still rally to protect the freedoms and liberties of even those hapless liberals. Already proposed by liberals is to restrict your freedom to eat or drink or smoke while driving. It is impossible for a liberal to "win" an argument because their premises all stem from delusional fantasies of impossible Utopia that are buttressed by the ultimate delusion that Utopia can be decreed. We have OFA Obamanista liberals in their pajamas living in parents basements telling us how to live....YIKES....read the warnings on the side of an iron to see what thay have done to America...YIKES...and dont rip off that pillow tag

I agree with your first sentence, mr. sail. You should have stopped there. Is there some reason you have to push away people who might agree with you in favour of the self gratification you get from being rude and insulting?

The liberal progressive democrat idea of legislating is to find the newest shiny bauble that gets the LIDV pulse to rise and create a populist movement behind it. Did the democrats think to include in their reactionary legislation the new toys under my Christmas Tree - Google Glasses and My " Dick Tracy" wrist watch. - NOPE - that will be next years agenda. Obviously Hassan lied when she said this "end the era of hasty, reactive government.” – Gov. Maggie Hassan. Clinton also lied when he said " the era of Big Govt is over" -

Really, infringing on personal liberties. You two, Itsa & sail, never fail to baffle me with some of these absurd posts. One day I can have a constructive exchange and then you throw this out as if this were even a political issue. Using your "logic" DUI and DWI also should be legal from a personal rights perspective. Do we really need a law? If people were responsible for their actions, I would say no. Commonsense should prevail, i emphasize SHOULD here. To make this an issue of rights, liberties or Constitutional freedoms just defies any basis in reality. If people were intelligent with commonsense we wouldn't even be having this exchange. But given the number of severe injuries and deaths, tells me that we must do something. Commonsense is no longer a trait that many of use still use. Perhaps we should forget this cell phone law and simply make distracted driving illegal and if a death results, a felony charge. I only looked down for a moment, does little to comfort the family and loved ones of the person the driver has murdered. I may be a liberal on some issues but give me draconian punishments when it comes to crimes.

baffling a LIDV is never at issue. The ability to educate them is

I personaly feel that cell phones have no reasonable use while driving. There is nothing that is that important and you are not that important that you can't wait until you stop or pull over to chat or text. Remember you got along just fine before you had a cell phone.

Why do Democrats parade out vicitims and constituent stories of accidents, experiences, etc. Let's be practical. Pass a law that allows cell phone use with a heat set or bluetooth. But what is next? Eating a sandwich? Radio? Talking with a passenger? Thinking? People who do a lot of driving for a living need some distraction or the road will hypnotize them and that is a fact. People think that every single minute you are concentrating on driving. Every single minute you are concentrating on the road.

Itsa, what on earth does this have to do with Democrats??? How can you dishonor the dead this way, by using their deaths to score a petty political point? And yes, eating a sandwich IS a distraction that can cause an accident, as is fiddling with the radio. You appear to have no common sense whatsoever.

It is political. One side of the political spectrum wants freedom and other people to stay out of their business, the other side want others to conform to the way they think (progressives). It is a fact. The radio? Eating a sandwich? You think that people should be robots fixated on strictly driving and have no radio? If you want to get techical, the windshield wipers or fiddling with turning on the heater or turning on a signal? You appear to have no common sense whatsoever while you are speaking about it. I think that you don't have to drive very far to make a living.

Actually yes, you certainly SHOULD be "fixated" on your driving. This is kind of Driver's Ed 101. And no, it's not at all political. I think we should all agree we'd like to be able to cross the street and get to the other side safely. There's nothing political about it at all.

Thank you, Duck Lady. Imagine when your teenager is learning to drive and you tell him " no don't worry about being fixated on your driving, just do your own thing" This is now a very selfish time in the US when the rights of others are not important as long as I get mine.

That is the exact problem tillie. Progressives are very selfish in supporting Obamacare. The attitude of those singing its praises is "I was subsidized and will pay less", they got theirs while 85% of the people will pay more. Those people who have taken responsibility for their own health care and now can "chip in" to defray the costs of other who can "get my health insurance subsidized"...aka I got mine.

If you had to drive 300 miles and you did not have a radio or something to refresh yourself, you would be more of a danger on the road than if you listened to the radio and had a cold drink. You obviously don't drive much, probably 30 miles per week. It is political from a standpoint that one side of the political spectrum looks to create laws that protect people from themselves which might be OK, except that they overdo it to the extreme.

Liberals need to fiddle with the radio in their never ending search for a liberal radio station. Liberal radio stations do not exist for obvious reasons. HEADLINE: "Liberal Commercial Talk Radio Disappears in NY, LA, SF in 2014". Do the readers know that Liberals have proposed to mandate stations to air liberal content - Google the "Fairness Doctrine" - needless to say as they cant legislate it so Obama will dictate it.

I would welcome a bill banning use of cell phones when driving. I do it here in NH but do not do it when visiting my family who live elsewhere. Why? Because it's illegal (and strongly enforced) where my family lives. That extra push is just enough to change my behavior in the direction of safety. And yes, of course, I shouldn't do it her. But I do. Because it's not illegal and lots of other people are doing it and golly gosh gee whiz... I'm human.

democrats proposing bills to restrict citizens liberty and freedoms - that is not news - That is tradition

So, let's see... you want the freedom to do something you KNOW is dangerous to yourself and others. Oh sure, that makes sense. Not.

I just happened to think... would you also like to have the freedom to rob banks? Cause we could get rid of that law to, to accommodate you.

when a LIDV is paralized by the notion of liberty & Freedom it is no longer astonishing - they never understand the constitution either

true dat......

Ban cellphones totally, for the driver, in vehicles.

I hate to call a spade a spade... but if the bill already on the books isn't stopping or reducing the problem... what good will an expanded cellphone limitation do? The example listed in here regarding the former fire chief... that was from TEXTING... not talking. But... someone has gotta make a name for herself with a bill.... lets call her Nanny! That's what she wants from us... a nanny state.

Really, you're kidding right??? If not this thinking is plain scary.

Yep, we don't need no stinkin' laws!

No, we need less stinkin' laws on good solid citizens.

Apparently in Itsa' world good, solid citizens are lousy drivers.

Please don't turn on your radio and let's ban drive thru windows at all fast food, donut, etc. joints. In fact, let's do away with cars all together and force people onto public transportation and herd them like cattle. In fact, we ought to pass laws that allow you to only travel one day a week to save fuel, the environment and keep the roads safe. Yes lets pass laws for all of those things. No smoking in cars and while we are at it, let's have cameras installed and have them sent wirelessly to police stations all across the country to make sure that people keep both hands on the wheel and let's pass laws that put governors on all cars so that they won't go over 55 MPH. Then, let's pass laws that make people take a driving test every single year and that would be more revenue we could use for social programs. And let's pass a law to restrict how much gas a person can purchase, yes let's keep passing laws until we have no freedoms left at all. Maybe then you will wake up and see the forest for the trees.

No Duckman, I am talking about laws in general, but I suspect that you realize that.

"Gale’s bill would prohibit anyone except police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel responding to an emergency situation from holding a cell phone while driving."...nope...its everyone or no one in my opinion...if its not safe for me, its not safe for anyone.

Am I to take it from your statement that you have a siren and emergency flashing lights installed on your vehicle? Because that's what your idea of equality would require.

so a siren and flashing lights make you magically immune from distracted driving???

No. It makes other cars get out of your way. Do I really have to explain this to you?

yes..please explain it to me. Hypothetical situation..police responding to emergency lights on siren on. Your kid is crossing the sidewalk with his ipod on..earbuds in. Cop looks at cellphone for a second, hits and kills kid...distracted driving...or just a tragedy??

police routinely respond to emergencies without lights and sirens...for their own safety..you know this right??

yes, I do. I've been trained to be on an ambulance crew. You're just playing around at this point.

Now that explains alot. most police wanted to be military but most could not cut it, most EMTs wanted to be doctors but couldn't cut it. Both have uniform and self importance issues.

No... I just shot a 30 foot hole thru your argument. So now we have police routinely responding to emergencies with no lights and sirens. Should they be on their cell phones??????

You are 100% right on that one.

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