Ark. House Rejects Bill to Ban Cell Phone Use by Teen Drivers

April 4, 2007

Teenagers will not have to pull over their cars to make calls on their cell phones after House members rejected a proposal on April 2 aimed at reducing distractions for Arkansas’ younger motorists.

On a 34-45 vote, House members put the brakes on a bill that would have prohibited drivers under 18 from using a cell phone while behind the wheel. The measure had previously won Senate approval. Earlier, the House Public Transportation Committee had endorsed the proposal by Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette.

“As our young people learn how to drive, they don’t need any more distractions than what they already have,” Hendren told the panel.

Though the proposal passed out of committee by a unanimous vote, it found more skepticism on the House floor.

“This doesn’t prohibit them from singing on the radio, does it?” asked Rep. David Dunn, D-Forrest City.

Opponents of the bill criticized the measure for not including an exemption for emergency calls. Hendren earlier told the committee that teens should pull over if they need to take or make a call on their cell phones.

A similar restriction was included in legislation that would have prohibited teenage drivers from being on the road late at night. That measure passed the Senate but failed in the House.

“Here we go again with the kids,” said Rep. Mike Patterson, D-Piggott. “We’re just picking on the kids again.”

Under the bill, anyone charged with breaking the cell-phone driving ban would have been issued a warning on the first offense and a $50 fine for each subsequent offense. The proposal would have made teenagers using a cell phone while driving a secondary offense, meaning police could not pull drivers over solely for that.

The proposal would also have prevented the state from using a violation of the cell phone rule to suspend or revoke a driver’s license.

The teen cell-phone bill was one of three Hendren filed this session focusing on cell phones and drivers.

Hendren also proposed requiring drivers to have a hands-free device available if they are using a cell phone while driving and another proposal would require the driver to own a hands-free device if there were a cell phone in the vehicle. Under both, drivers would have received a warning first, then be subject to a $50 fine.

But neither of those proposals made it out of a Senate committee.

Hendren said he hoped the Legislature would take another look in some future session at regulating cell-phone use by drivers.

“As more information comes available, I think people are going to see (that), the less distraction people have in these vehicles, the better off you and the other drivers will be,” Hendren said. “It’s just safer. That’s all there is to it.”

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