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Distracted legislating: Our baseless cellphone ban

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law on Friday a ban on the use of handheld cellphones. Drivers will be highly inconvenienced because she and most legislators ignored the research before passing this overly broad law.

House Bill 1360, which will take effect in July of 2015, bans the “use” by drivers of “any hand-held mobile electronic device capable of providing voice or data communication....” Though the law will be found under “Use of Mobile Electronic Devices While Driving,” the bill defines “driving” to include being “temporarily halted in traffic for a traffic control device or other momentary delay.” That is sitting, not driving, and the law will make it illegal to even read a message on one’s cell phone while stuck in traffic.

This is necessary, supporters say, to reduce traffic fatalities. “By reducing distracted driving, this bipartisan legislation will help save lives,” Hassan said in a statement. But reading a text at a stop light is not “distracted driving.”

Furthermore, as we have pointed out before, the research suggests that such broad bans are not very effective. An academic study published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health underscores the point. The study found that texting bans did reduce fatalities among drivers between the ages of 15-21. Depending on the type of ban, the reductions ranged between 0-11 percent (some bans were ineffective). HB 1360 bans all handheld cell phone use for drivers under the age of 18, which is a worthy step that should save lives. But the study also reached this important conclusion: “No type of anti-texting law reduced fatality rates for individuals above age 21.”

Starting next July, drivers in New Hampshire will have their access to useful information (including weather and traffic alerts) needlessly curtailed. Legislators should pass a fix removing the cellphone ban for adult drivers while keeping it for minors.

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