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Bill would put brakes on cell phones

Ryan Carter

Legislation introduced by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Burbank) that

would require drivers to keep hand-held cell phones away from their

ears while on the road is picking up speed in the Assembly after

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passing a key committee.

If the bill passes, drivers would be required to use cellular

hands-free technology while on the road. Violators would be fined up

to $50 for the infraction. The law would take effect in January 2005.

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The Assembly Transportation Committee passed the bill -- authored

by Frommer and Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) -- this week with a 14-5

vote. Its next stop is the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“I think there is a proliferation of new devices that people are

using in their cars which distract them,” Frommer said. “Based on

reports, there is a risk associated with using a cell phone while

driving, specifically in holding the cell phone.”

Frommer pointed to studies such as a California Highway Patrol

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report that found that 11% of crashes involving distracted drivers

were linked to cell-phone use, he said. Between Jan. 1 and June 30 of last year, six deaths and 264 injuries were connected to driving

while using a cell phone, Frommer said of the study’s findings.

“I’ve received a lot of letters and calls from constituents on

this issue,” Frommer said. “There is a public concern about this.”

In the past two years, the same legislation was killed in the

Assembly, Frommer said, adding that the cell-phone industry lobbied

against it.

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A Nokia spokeswoman declined to discuss the company’s stance on

similar legislation. But she said safety is a part of its user

guidelines, published with each new phone.

“We recommend that users do not use a hand-held phone while

driving -- rather that they park the vehicle first,” Nokia spokes-

woman Laurie Armstrong said.

Police have become more vigilant about cell-phone use while

driving.

“It’s the inattention that would be part of what an officer would

find wrong with the driving,” CHP Officer Vince Bell said. “While

[the inattention] might not be against the law, it will cause drivers

to break the law.”

“They can’t signal,” Burbank Police Sgt. Bruce Speirs said,

referring to a typical driver scenario of one hand on the phone and

one on the wheel.

In 2001, New York became the first state to ban the use of

hand-held cell phones while driving.


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