Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving, La. Safety Official Says

Louisiana needs to outlaw using cellular phones while driving, but probably won’t, says the state’s top highway safety official.

Jim Champagne, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said the Legislature is unlikely to pass such a law.

And, he said, “I think that it is unenforceable.”

“I don’t know that you can legislate common sense,” he told about a dozen people at the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “To me it is a common-sense issue.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia restrict the use of cell phones by drivers, and four states ban the use of hand-held cell phones entirely, said Matt Sundeen, transportation specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

States with bans are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, Sundeen said. About a dozen states ban the use of hand-held cell phones by young drivers who are using learner’s permits.

A study earlier this year found that nearly eight of 10 collisions and near-crashes nationwide involved lack of a driver’s attention. The risk of a crash nearly tripled when a driver used a cell phone, it found.

In Louisiana, Champagne said, 2,200 were seriously injured and seven drivers died because drivers were talking on cell phones.

“Now the question becomes what do you do with that information,” he said.

Champagne said legislators might be more willing to approve a ban on hand-held phones while allowing hands-free cell phones. However, figures show that it’s the distraction that matters, not whether driver held the phone, had it hanging on the dashboard or used a headset to talk.

A bill that would have forbidden first-year drivers to use cell phones failed seven votes short of the minimum needed for passage, 46-49.

The trade group for the wireless industry opposes such laws, said Joe Farren, director of public affairs for CTIA-Wireless, which is based in Washington, D.C.

He said drivers can have many potential distractions, and laws shouldn’t focus on one of them. Farren said about 226 million cell phones are in use nationwide.

Information from: The Advocate,