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A cellphone ban: Ignoring inconvenient data

State senators voted Thursday to ban all handheld cellphone "use" by drivers - even while stopped. If the bill becomes law and you are stuck in traffic and need to call home, but cannot afford a Bluetooth headset, that will be a $100 fine for a first offense, $500 for a third. Call it the Make Poor People Pull Over Bill. No wonder they passed it on a voice vote, with no roll call recorded so there is no record of who voted for it.

Manchester Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro said "The data is quite clear. This is worth doing because it saves lives." But the data are not clear at all.

Last August, researchers from the Rand Corp. and the Colorado School of Mines Division of Economics and Business studied California traffic accidents before and after that state's 2008 cellphone ban and concluded "we find no evidence of a reduction in accidents state-wide due to the ban."

Only a few weeks ago, University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan wrote in The New York Times of a new study of accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texas A&M researcher Cheng Cheng "finds no evidence that bans on texting affect accidents," Mulligan wrote, and "his data 'suggests that handheld bans might not reduce accidents.'" Mulligan concludes "perhaps lawmakers overestimated the benefits of regulating this sort of driver behavior."

We could go on, but what would be the point? Some studies suggest cellphone bans are helpful, some not. Legislators clearly are ignoring the science and doing what they think is politically beneficial.

This legislation probably will have little if any impact on accidents. But it definitely will outlaw checking your map app while stopped at a light or calling your spouse when stuck in traffic. It would even be illegal under this bill to use a traffic or emergency alert app to find your way out of a traffic jam.

If legislators are intent on banning handheld cell-phone use while driving - even though studies suggest that hands-free phone use is just as distracting - the very least they could do is change the bill's definition of "driving" to match the state's existing texting ban. Under that (apparently ineffective) law, the ban applies only when the car is moving. There is no possible justification for banning phone use in a stationary vehicle. Strip that insanity from the bill so that low-income Granite Staters can at least let their families know they will be late for dinner when stopped at a light or in traffic.

Johnny A
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