Ark Bill Seeks to Stop Teen Cell Phone Use While Driving

January 10, 2007

Cell phones already drive teens to distraction.

But behind the wheel, the distraction can mean car crashes and injuries for drivers who already lack experience being on the road and an Arkansas state legislator wants to do something about it.

“The cell phone is a good tool and a good thing to help with security,” said Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette. But “if you’re going to do it, for heaven’s sake, pull over to the side of the road and use it.”

The bill is one of three Hendren has filed to keep drivers from using cell phones while driving.

In the bill targeted at teenagers, a driver under age 18 caught for the first time using a cellular phone behind the wheel would receive a warning. If caught again, the teen would face a $50 fine.

Another Hendren bill would require drivers to have a hands-free device available if they are using a cell phone while driving; another would only require the driver to own a hands-free device. Under both, drivers would receive a warning first, then be subject to a $50 fine.

If passed as law, using a cellular phone would be considered a secondary offense for a teen driver – meaning a police officer or state trooper could not pull over a teen driver solely for using a cellular phone. The state’s seat belt law works the same way, said Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler.

Sadler said Arkansas does not have statistics on how electronic devices like cellular phones impact crashes. Since Jan. 1, new state police forms have included a line for troopers to record if cell phones were present, Sadler said.

Across the nation, AAA estimates drivers distracted by cellular phones and other electronic devices cause as many as one-half of the 6 million crashes reported a year in the United States. So far, AAA reports at least 14 states have passed laws regarding teen drivers and cellular phones.

Hendren’s bill simply bans teen drivers from “using” cellular phones without specifying how. With teens across the nation often more likely to send text messages to their friends through the devices, Hendren believes the bill would cover that as well. However, he said he would add language to make that clear if questioned by fellow legislators.

Hendren acknowledged that crashes don’t only come from cellular phones, but also from those “sitting with someone in the front seat, putting on makeup or eating a hamburger.” But he said eliminating cellular phone use by teen drivers could help save lives.

“Driving is a privilege but it something that takes some experience and skill,” Hendren said. “All of us used to be teenagers. We all used to think we were immortal.”

The teen cellular phone bill is SB19.

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