Local News

State Lawmakers Consider Teen Driver Cell Phone Ban

Posted May 25, 2006

— Teenagers would have to hang up their cell phones before they get behind the wheel in North Carolina under a Senate bill considered Thursday.

The measure, echoing the warnings of parents everywhere, would levy court costs and an increased supervisory period for drivers under 18 caught talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device.

"The fact of the matter is, this will save lives," said Sen. Stan Bingham the bill's primary sponsor. "I remember when I was 16 or 17, God knows I was a wild driver. I sure didn't need a cell phone."

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, also supports the legislation.

“I think being such a young and inexperienced driver, they don't have the where with all to pay attention to both driving and talking on a cell phone,” he said.

A Senate judiciary panel on Thursday aired Bingham's proposal, which has drawn the support of motorist group AAA Carolinas, the governor's office and the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.

Still, past cell phone bans have gone nowhere in the legislature. There's resistance this time too, even if teens are the target.

“It could endanger your life and someone else's, but at the same time, you've got to hire additional police. It's just a real burden on the system,” said Johnston County Republican Representative Leo Daughtry.

Rookie drivers in North Carolina already have limited privileges. Teenagers begin with a learner's permit and may drive only in the daytime with a supervisor in the front seat. Later, they can graduate to a less-restrictive license and then on to a full provisional license.

An infraction under the bill would extend a teen driver's provisional period by six months and result in about $110 in court costs, although lawmakers, including Bingham, are considering different penalties.

"I don't agree that parents should share the responsibility," said Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg. "But, also, no person at any age should be using the hand-held cell phones while driving."

The panel will continue debate on the ban next Thursday.

Drivers who use mobile phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash that would require a hospital visit than those who don't, according to a study in a British medical journal last year.

Earlier this year, the Child Fatality Task Force urged North Carolina lawmakers to bar teenage drivers from using cell phones. Previous recommendations from that protection panel have led to mandatory bicycle helmets for children and age restrictions for all-terrain vehicles.

Since the graduated licensing program was adopted in 1997, statewide crashes involving 16-year-old drivers are down 34 percent, according to the fatality task force. Still, motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of death for North Carolina teens ages 15-17.

"The goal here is to reduce distractions, accidents and injuries," said Ernie Seneca, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. "Cellular phones are a distraction, and young drivers should be focused on the road ahead not the phone in their hand."

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already banned mobile phone use for some teen drivers.

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