DENVER -- In the 2004 legislative session, 18 states are looking at bills that restrict or ban cell phone use while operating a vehicle. Bills in 14 states would ban the use of handhelds while driving, except in emergencies. Lawmakers in four states have proposed bills outlawing all mobile phone use -- even with hands-free kits -- while driving.
The states evaluating bans on handhelds are Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Some of the bills make driving with handhelds a secondary offense. Legislation in nine of the states would require fines from $20 to $100 for the first offense.
New York is the only state that currently prohibits using handheld phones while driving; it enacted the law in December 2001. Since then, law enforcement officials have issued over 140,000 tickets to drivers. But research suggests that New Yorkers are returning to their old ways as vigilance subsides, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Now the Big Apple is considering outlawing all phone use while driving. Indiana, New Jersey and Wyoming are weighing similar legislation. No state law banning both handhelds and hands-free phones currently exists; 11 states rejected such proposals in 2003. The bill in Indiana would make it a secondary infraction, meaning it would cost the violator $1,000 if he or she were caught when pulled over for another offense.
Six states -- California, Idaho, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island -- are considering “distracted driving” legislation. The bills prohibit inattentive driving, which could include reading, eating, smoking, grooming or even adjusting the radio.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that driver distraction causes 20 to 30 percent of all motor vehicle accidents -- approximately 1.2 million each year.