Lawmakers look at restricting cell phones behind the wheel

Posted February 7, 2011 10:46 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2011 11:13 p.m. EST

— Three bills currently on the table in the General Assembly would restrict the use of cell phones while driving.

The proposals are gaining traction as more and more car wrecks involve a driver who was on the phone behind the wheel.

Earlier this month, State Senator Charlie Dannelly (D-Mecklenburg) introduced Senate Bill 36, which would make it illegal to use a cell phone for any purpose while driving. Dannelly said the importance of this bill is highlighted by a horrible crash in Greensboro last year, when a tractor trailer slammed into a car and killed two children.

The driver of a tractor trailer was using a cell phone, Dannelly said.

"While you're driving an automobile, don't hold a cell phone in your hand," Dannelly said.

He doesn't believe the bill will pass because it bans any and all digital media use, even hands-free devices.

"The bill is not going to go forth as it is," he said. "The auto industry would go crazy."

Still, he said, people need to be more aware of the risks of any electronic device that might distract them from the road. He expects the restrictive language banning hands-free technology will be stripped from the bill, leaving a version he and other lawmakers can discuss.

"Things that will encourage people to use ear buds and Bluetooths and speaker phones and other things to get their hands off the device and back on the steering wheel is a good idea," said House Speaker Thom Tillis.

William Blow uses a hands-free device while driving. He hopes more people will opt to go hands-free or that the law will force them.

"I get a bit bothered by folks (who) are riding with the phone to their face. They can't see out their peripheral. They're just all over the road," he said.

House Bill 31, sponsored by Garland Pierce, also would make it illegal to use any form of digital media, including hands-free devices, while driving. Pierce sponsored a second, similar House bill that would allow hands-free technology.

Drivers would get a $100 fine for violating the law as it is written. All three bills have a proposed start date of Dec. 1, 2011.

Talking on a cell phone is already illegal for drivers under 18. Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers.