Widen cell-phone driver ban


POSTED: Monday, October 19, 2009

As all Hawaii counties soon may ban hand-held cellular phones while driving, the Legislature should make the prohibition uniform in its upcoming session. Hawaii would be the eighth state to implement a statewide ban as Congress considers legislation to reward states that do so or punish those that don't.

Honolulu's ban of hand-held cell phone usage while driving took effect July 1 and a similar ban on the Big Island will be launched in January. Kauai County Councilman Derek Kawakami said he intends to introduce such legislation, and Maui's County Council is considering a bill, Kauai's Garden Island newspaper reported.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently introduced a bill that would withhold 25 percent of federal highway funds from states that don't ban texting while driving. The bill is heavy-handed and foolish for restricting the ban to texting. A more plausible bill has been written by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va. It would reward states that ban use of hand-held phones while driving by distributing federal funds to them totaling up to $60 million over two years.

The Governors Highway Safety Association declared its opposition to Schumer's punitive measure but should welcome the Rockefeller bill.

The funding would go to states that fine drivers at least $200 for texting and $100 for using a hand-held phone. Honolulu's fine is $67 for the first offense, so a state bill fashioned after that ordinance would fall short.

Seven states and the District of Columbia now ban driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone. A report this month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the bans “;have reduced hand-held phone use and appear capable of maintaining reductions for the long term.”;

However, the report, which focused on D.C., New York and Connecticut, found that “;the likelihood was low that a driver violating the ban would receive a citation, and there were no publicized targeted enforcement campaigns in any of the three jurisdictions.”;

Indeed, California's ban, which took effect in July 2008, reportedly is being ignored by thousands of drivers after initially being widely obeyed. The state's Highway Patrol last month issued 12,227 citations, 4,498 more than in its first month. California first lady Maria Shriver has been caught on video three times driving while talking on her hand-held phone. The Rockefeller bill calls for an expenditure of up to $24 million on nationwide distracted-driving campaigns.

Any message conveyed should include the fact that all studies show hands-free phones are as dangerous as hand-held phones while driving. The distraction comes from the engrossing phone conversation, not hand use, and the bans eventually should recognize that reality.