@NCCapitol

Legislation requiring hands-free phones while driving gains steam

Posted March 21, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT

— A House committee is expected to discuss Wednesday making the use of a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving illegal in North Carolina.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have banned drivers from using cell phones, and House Bill 44 appears to have bipartisan support.

"I certainly think anything that will encourage people to use earbuds and Bluetooth and speaker phones and other things to get their hands off the device and back on the steering wheel is a good idea," House Speaker Thom Tillis said.

Some drivers disagreed.

"I think it would cause a lot of issues. I think a lot of people wouldn't like it, myself included," Daniel Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he keeps his phone on the seat next to him while he drives.

"If I got a phone call to make, I'm going to make it," he said.

Under the proposed legislation, drivers would be able to use a hand-held phone if they are not moving, such as sitting at a red light, and to report an emergency. The penalty for violators would be a $100 fine, but it wouldn't result in points on a driver's license that would affect insurance rates.

"I would support it because it's safer to drive with both hands – both hands are available and accessible," driver Denzal Poole said.

Options for hands-free devices vary in price. At a Verizon store, for example, special earphones cost $20 to $30, a Bluetooth ranges from $40 to $100 and a portable speakerphone runs about $60.

"Having it to your ear isn't really causing the problem. It's dialing it. That's the problem," driver Aaron Hubbard said of using a cell phone while driving.

Poole acknowledged that cell phones can be distracting while behind the wheel.

"I've almost gotten hit a few times. I've seen it," he said.