La. House Committee Approves Bill Limiting Drivers’ Cell Phone Use

April 16, 2008

Cell phone use by drivers would be restricted heavily in Louisiana, if the full Legislature agrees to a bill approved by the House Transportation Committee.

The measure would ban the use of text-messaging while driving and the use of hand-held phones by drivers. Drivers would be able to use handsfree devices to talk on cell phones, under the bill. Drivers also could use hand-held phones during emergencies.

Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said his bill (House Bill 852) would improve traffic safety. He said similar bans on hand-held cell phone use by drivers have been enacted in five states and bans on text-messaging while driving in two states.

Seven highway deaths in 2005 and 2,125 traffic accidents involved use of wireless devices, said Bobby Breland, with the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. That number grew to 10 deaths and 2,282 accidents in 2006.

Opponent Johnny Koch, a lobbyist for Sprint Nextel Corp., said cell phones aren’t “that big a deal” in driver distraction. He said the bill would interrupt the way people communicate personally and for business.

Badon’s proposal, approved in an 11-6 vote, heads next to the full House for debate. Similar bills have failed in recent years in the Legislature.

The House was receptive to a bill that would prohibit school bus drivers in Louisiana from talking on cell phones while driving children to and from school. The proposal won unanimous, quick approval from the House.

“This is very important that they’re concentrating on what they’re doing while they’re driving,” said Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the measure (House Bill 402).

The bill has exceptions for emergencies. It moves to the Senate for debate.

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