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N.H. Senate hears testimony on bill to ban cell phones while driving

New Hampshire could become the 13th state to make it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving if the Senate passes a bill that’s already made it through the House.

“This is the most-needed piece of highway safety legislation to come before you this year,” Commissioner of Safety Earl Sweeney told members of the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday.

That committee heard testimony from law enforcement officials, state agencies, victims’ families and others on a bill that will strengthen the state’s distracted driving laws by making the use of any hand-held device a violation-level offense. In New Hampshire, about 124 people died in car crashes caused by distracted driving between 2010 and 2013, Sweeney said. Nationally, there were 3,360 deaths from distracted driving in 2011 alone.

Under the bill, no one would be allowed to use any hand-held device, including a cell phone or GPS, while driving, except to call 911 in an emergency. It would prohibit all cell phone use, even hands-free, for drivers under 18. New Hampshire’s current distracted driving law bans texting while driving but is rarely enforced, speakers said yesterday.

If this bill passes, drivers could still talk on their cell phones while driving if they use a hands-free device that uses just one push to start a call. The ban on hand-held devices, including plugging addresses into a GPS, would be in effect even if the driver is stopped at a traffic light. Under the bill, the only way to make nonemergency calls, send text messages or use other hand-held devices would be to pull over on the side of the road.

Gov. Maggie Hassan’s spokesman said she has not fully reviewed the bill but appreciates the Legislature’s focus on the issue.

Twelve other states have hand-held device bans in place, while 43 states ban texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, which tracks traffic safety across the country. Thirty-seven states ban all cell phone use for new drivers. Several studies show that distracted driving plays a significant role in car accidents, especially among young drivers. But a representative from the Governors Highway Safety Association said no data is available yet on whether banning cell phone use while driving is actually reducing accidents.

Supporters of the ban yesterday pointed to statistics that show cell phone use, especially texting, plays a major role in car crashes, behind only impaired driving. But detractors said the state’s existing laws are strong enough to combat the problem as long as they’re properly enforced. This law would only encourage people to text in a more discreet way, maybe putting the phone on their lap instead of in front of their face, which would take their eyes even further off the road, some opponents said.

“I believe there is a distracted driver problem, but I think enforcement of the existing law is the answer,” said Rep. Gary Daniels, a Milford Republican.

On average, the police write only 76 tickets a year for distracted driving, Sweeney said. During House hearings on the bill, representatives from the telecommunications and trucking industries as well as members of the state highway and safety agencies expressed support for the bill.

Studies show that drivers who are texting are more likely to cause accidents than those who are talking on cell phones. In fact, drivers are 23 times more likely to crash when texting, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Sending a text message takes an average of 4.6 seconds, which is a lengthy time for a driver to keep his or her eyes off the road, supporters of the bill said. Studies also show most drivers admit to talking on their phones or texting while driving.

“We all drive distracted; some more frequently and some less so,” said Howard Hedegard of the New Hampshire Traffic Safety Institute. “And because driving distracted, like other risky driving behaviors, doesn’t always result in a crash, we deceive ourselves into believing that it is not risky, and we do it over and over again.”

Two families who spoke at the hearing know, however, that it is risky. Donald and Tressa Flanders told the committee about their son, who is suffering from severe brain damage after the family car was hit by a driver who was sending a text. Pam and Bill McKinney also experienced the dangers of texting while driving, when Pam’s father was hit and killed by a texting driver while picking up the mail in December.

“The life you save may be your own or that of one you love,” Bill told the committee as he urged them to pass the bill.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Related

Ray Duckler: Proposed cell phone law a matter of common sense

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

If you want perspective on the issue of banning cell phone use while driving, listen to Donald Flanders, who spoke at a hearing yesterday, and whose son, D.W. Flanders, remains in a wheelchair after a distracted driver crashed into the family’s car four years ago. “There’s a lot of opposition to this,” Flanders said. “But I don’t think they have …

Legacy Comments18

If cellphone use is right behind impaired driving... maybe we should make laws that ban impaired driving as well. Oh wait... there are already laws to 'prevent' that, yet we constantly hear of the tragedies that occur. We can't pass laws that prevent things... but we can pass laws that punish the crimes in a commensurate manner.

best post ever on this subject...

We don't need to pass this bill...just ask the person that hit D.W. Flanders - he was found negligent and sentenced to how many years without this law being in place. 12:24pm 4/3/14

For RabbitNH, the expression you are looking for is she "could NOT care less". To say she "could care less" actually means she cares a lot. Unfortunately, you are not alone in the use of this phrase incorrectly.

So basically auntv all you got out of my post was I used a phrase incorrectly? Commenting on what I posted would have been nice. As I have stated to Tillie, correcting folks is rude. And in the scheme of things stating could not does not change the message very much. Obviously some folks have to correct others. They claim they do it to help the person they are correcting, but most of the folks I know who do it, like to feel superior by correcting others. Not saying you are, but just my take.

Dear auntv. I don't know if you are a new poster, but I must warn you, people on this site get very upset about being corrected in matters of grammar .They can say the most outrageous things and enjoy the fight if someone tries to set them straight. But God forbid you mention a grammar error as you did which changes the writer's meaning and you will be blasted. I have peeves about "your ,you're, their and there" and oh Lord the apostrophe use. Many people do not know when to use it when writing in the plural. But don' feel badly, I do not do it to be feel superior, it just sets my teeth on edge to let it go by. It is like being an ex teacher, you must correct every thing you read.. Contrary to Rabbit's belief, I don't mind being corrected, if I learn something. .I do hit the wrong key a lot and that upsets Itsa, (google, goggle) but it can't be helped. I sometimes type in the dark..

This is being debated, why. What is one "con". I hope I don't hear that moronic slippery slope argument. Oops, too late.

It isn't only driving. Yesterday in Market Basket, I watched a woman completely do her shopping in every isle with out ever taking the phone from the ear. He son had tantrums, knocked items over and caused a ruckus at the check out and she never paid one bit of attention to him. I say her son was trying to get her attention but she just didn't care. He will be an adult someday and she will have no memory of his growing up. It is sad.

Oh yes, let's pass a bill about talking on your phone at the supermarket as well.

I have noticed before you have a problem with reading comprehension. No where did I say anything about banning cell phones., I lamented that the mother was losing the moments of her child's life and not disciplining him because her mind is elsewhere.

Let's see, on the relevance scale - a Zero. When your taught to keep both hands on the wheel while driving, that is just a slight against the telecom industry and not for safeties sake. You seem to always have an interesting spin on topics. The multitude of laws we have would not be necessary if people were capable of using common sense. It's the irresponsible acts of people that drive the need for these laws, not a desire by government to control us. No matter how much you protest. Adults today, and I use the word as loosely as possible, should not have to be told to pay attention when driving, that it's irresponsible to not have insurance and that it's illegal to abuse your spouse. Oh, and that it's not safe to drive when you can't even stand up or walk straight. But we have all those laws because enough people are incapable of making good judgement calls.

It is like folks have ADD these days. The addiction to constantly being on a phone, texting, etc is crazy. It has become incredibly annoying also. We are seeing it with our kids also. They get these devices younger and younger. Is it no wonder their attention spans are so short, that we see more and more kids coded. Driving now is ridiculous. You can pick out who is on their phone, by the way they drive. They cannot stay in their lanes, and they scare the crap out of you when they tail gate and you see they are on a phone. How did we get by all those years without cell phones? Obviously the Market Basket Lady could care less about her kid. Staying in touch is a bigger priority.

ADD = Always Driving Distracted

Agreed; pass the bill. To not do so would be saying it's OK to not look where you're going while driving. I might add that this doesn't go far enough, though. Just because a driver isn't holding a device in their hand doesn't mean it's OK. Reaching for, and manipulating, a dash-mounted device can be just as bad. I vividly recall the woman who nearly ran me over on my bike; I was right next to the passenger-side door of her big SUV as she was pushing buttons on her dash mounted GPS. Ever since this epidemic of driving while using a cell phone started, I've said "it's not so much where your hands are, it's where your mind is". That applied for simply talking, of course. Texting is infinitely more dangerous.

I fully agree that texting causes one's attention to be off the road. However, I have several concerns: 1.) Using a phone to provide directions to navigate with would be illegal. 2.) If my car has a built in navigation system would using it still be illegal? 3.) Will State Police, who pass me every morning (doing like 80 by the way), be exempted from the law? I quite often see them on cell phones while driving. 4.) Will this law prohibit ham radio operators from using their ham radio equipment while their car is in motion? This would include both fixed radios AND hand held walkie talkie type radios that one would need to bring to one's face to speak. 5.) What about the people eating food while driving. Yes I beleive there is a distracted driving law, but again wouldn't that cover the cell phone issues and be far more encompassing?

A "no-brainer" by any definition. Pass it.

Here comes the slippery slope. Next they will ban eating, drinking and listening to the radio while driving. Yes, people have lost their lives texting while driving but statistically it is a small percentage of people. Texting should be outlawed. Talking on your cell phone, well not so much an issue but it is an emotionally charged issue for some. People will use earphones or headsets or run it through the radio, if supporters are worried about distractions the only thing this bill will do is put that spare hand on the wheel.

Stop the madness and pass the bill.

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