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Hang up! Group wants national ban on driving with cellphones

September 06, 2012|Richard Simon
  • On the eve of a new California law requiring drivers to use hands-free cellphones, a motorist makes use of his handheld phone as he rolls along Rosecrans Avenue in San Diego.
On the eve of a new California law requiring drivers to use hands-free cellphones,… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON -- If you’re jabbering away on a handheld phone while driving -- no matter what state you’re in -- hang up! 

So says the Governors Highway Safety Assn., which is urging all states to ban drivers from using handheld cellphones in an effort to curb distracted driving.

Ten states, including California, prohibit motorists from holding the phone while behind the wheel, while 39 states ban texting while driving.

The highway safety group contends that banning drivers from using handheld phones would help states enforce their laws against texting while driving. Often, in states without a handheld law, drivers claim they were dialing their phone, which is legal, not texting, complicating law enforcement decisions over citations, the group says. 

"If you pass a handheld law, then you know that if someone has a phone in their hand, they are either breaking the handheld talking law or they’re breaking the texting law,’’ said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety. "That’s going to make it easier to catch the texters, and we know the texters are much harder to catch.’’

California has seen an increase in the number of tickets paid after drivers were cited for using a handheld phone -- 460,487 in 2011 -- and texting while driving -- 14,886 in 2011. 

The number of fatalities directly attributable to cellphone use declined by 47% in the Golden State, from 100 deaths in the July 2006-June 2008 period, before the laws went into effect, to 53 in the July 2008-June 2010 period.

California’s ban on drivers’ use of handheld phones took effect in July 2008 and its ban on driver texting in January 2009.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 660,000 drivers, or 5% of all drivers, were using handheld cell phones at a typical daylight moment in 2010 based on observations of thousands of drivers.

The agency estimates that at least 3,092 people were killed and 416,000 were injured in distraction-affected crashes in 2010.

The National Transportation Safety Board last year called for a nationwide ban on drivers' non-emergency use of any electronic devices, including hands-free phones.

 The recently passed federal transportation bill offers states financial incentives for enacting laws cracking down on distracted driving, such as banning texting while driving and prohibiting cellphone use by drivers under age 18, but the measure does not seek to persuade states to ban use of handheld cellphones by all drivers.

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