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News N.C. lawmakers looking to outlaw cell phone usage while driving

North Carolina lawmakers are looking at a bill that would ban cell phone use for people driving a motor vehicle.

The bill is akin to previous laws passed that were designed to raise highway safety. Last year the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that made it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to talk on a cell phone while driving. During the same session, the General Assembly also passed a bill that prohibits all drivers from texting while driving.

On Feb. 7, Senator Charlie Dannelly (D-Mecklenburg) introduced Senate Bill 36, which would make using a cell phone while driving unlawful. The law would not apply to drivers making a phone call for the purpose of communicating an emergency situation to authorities. The bill would also ban the use of hands-free devices such as blue-tooth technology.

The bill calls for a $100 fine for any driver who fails to obey the law, as well as confiscation of their phone by authorities.

After passing a first reading, the bill went to a judiciary committee to undergo further deliberation. If passed, the bill would be effective as of Dec. 1.

“There are plenty of other dangers for drivers,” said western North Carolina Senator Jim Davis, who described the bill as impractical. “Operating a radio, bad weather, these are also things that cause accidents. I don’t know of any data showing the responsible use of a telephone.”

Davis, who also serves on the judiciary committee that the bill was sent to, said it was likely the bill could die before it’s ever voted on. “I’m not in favor of it,” he said, adding that he and a number of other officials will likely vote against the bill.

First Sergeant William Norville, of the N.C. Highway Patrol, said that his department does not keep statistics of how many accidents are related to the use of cell phones. He did indicate that such accidents have been known to occur throughout the area. Norville just became first sergeant, after serving as a Highway Patrolman for 22 years. “If you’re going to talk on your cell phone and drive, be safe in busy traffic by pulling over on the side of the road,” he advised. “I find myself having to do it.”

According to a statewide telephone survey conducted by the University of North Carolina in 2002, drivers talking on cell phones are nearly twice as likely as other drivers to have rearend collisions. The study, “Cell Phone Use While Driving in North Carolina: 2002 Update Report,” was sponsored by the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

The survey, which polled 500 cell phone users and 150 nonusers, found that an estimated 58.8 percent of N.C. drivers have used a cell phone while driving. One in four users reported having hands-free devices, although they did not always use the device when using the phones.

The survey cited a special two-month data collection effort performed by the State Highway Patrol, which found that of 29 identified incidents, all but one actually involved a cell phone. At least 1,475 cell phone-related crashes occur annually on North Carolina roads, the Highway Patrol estimated in their date collection.


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