Tougher cellphone restrictions sought for NH drivers
Two lawmakers have asked the state Legislative Services Bureau to draft legislation to toughen state laws on cellphone use and distracted driving by people behind the wheel.
The state has no law making it illegal for a driver to use a hand-held cellular telephone, but it does regulate cellphone use under a wide-ranging distracted driving law.
"I'm going to take another stab at it, and I have a highway safety expert sending me some model legislation," Gale said. "I think we all experience it every day: People not paying attention while on their cellphones."
Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, also has filed a legislative service request seeking to toughen state laws that prohibit distracted driving.
"I'd like to stop (drivers) from talking on the cellphone and missing my bumper by a half inch," Pantelakos said. "I'd like to not see people riding with kids in their car in the back seat and going by me and reading a newspaper or punching their computers."
John Walls, vice president of CTIA, the former Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said the group does not oppose state action to restrict cellphone use by drivers. Walls said CTIA - which represents cellular service providers and the makers of cellphones and cellphone software - reached its position more than a decade ago, before cellular telephone use exploded.
According to Distraction.gov - a U.S. Government website dedicated to educating the public about distracted driving, particularly cellphone use and texting while driving - at any given moment in America, 660,000 drivers are using a cellphone or an electronic device while navigating roads filled with cars and trucks, bicycle riders, motorcyclists and pedestrians. That statistic has held steady since 2010.
In 2000, a study done for the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis concluded, "While there is evidence that using a cellular phone while driving poses risks to both the driver and others, it may be premature to enact substantial restrictions."
But people who have been involved in accidents or near-accidents caused by cellphone-using motorists say it is an issue of safety, not economics.
In 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010, according to the NHTSA.
Some would limit cellphone bans to hand-held devices and allow Bluetooth and other hands-free cellular use.
A 2008 study done at the State University of New York at Cortland found little difference in reaction time between a driver using a handheld phone in a traffic emergency and one using a hands-free device under the same circumstances.
"When they were using any type of cellphone device, they were more than 20 percent slower than when they were not talking on the phone; there was no difference between hands-free and handheld," Hendrick said.
"It's actually the thought process of the conversation that is the slowing factor," Hendrick said.
At least seven states have banned use of handheld phones by drivers, and at least 29 others prohibit their use by young or inexperienced drivers. There's good reason for that, SUNY-Corltand's Hendrick said.
And that makes texting while driving, particularly by young people, especially dangerous, Hendrick said.
The ubiquitous nature of text messaging has prompted manufacturers and governments alike to try to make peace with technology.
Some cellphone manufacturers, such as Apple Inc., have configured devices to eliminate the need to read and type in sharing short messages. Models of Apple's iPhone allow a user with a Bluetooth connection to verbally answer text messages that are read to them by Siri, the iPhone's automated nagging device.
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