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Bid to Regulate Phone Use in Cars Fails


Amid fierce opposition from mobile phone carriers, state lawmakers on Monday quashed a measure that would have made it illegal to drive while using a handheld cellular phone.

The cell phone driving bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), fell one vote short of the 10 votes needed to move it out of the Assembly Transportation Committee. Four members voted against the measure and six members did not cast a vote, Simitian said.

The bill, which also was beaten by one vote last summer, closely followed regulations that have cropped up in New York state and elsewhere amid concerns about the risks of cell phone use in moving vehicles.

Simitian's measure would have made it illegal for drivers to talk on a mobile phone without using a hands-free device, such as a headset, except in an emergency. The penalty would have been equal to the penalty for breaking the state's seat-belt law.

After the late-afternoon vote, Simitian said the bill fell victim to intense lobbying from wireless service providers AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Sprint PCS and others. Verizon Wireless was the only carrier to support the measure.

"All of them tell their customers not to drive a car and use their phone without a hands-free device, yet they have been absolutely fierce in their opposition" to regulation, Simitian said.

To ward off Simitian's measure, the wireless companies proposed a substitute bill aimed broadly at restricting "distracting activity" in a car.

Simitian vowed to reintroduce a new version of the handheld cell phone ban in a few weeks.

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