New York lawmakers hope drivers keep both hands on the wheel by banning hand-held cell phones |

New York lawmakers hope drivers keep both hands on the wheel by banning hand-held cell phones


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – The first state ban on motorists talking on hand-held cell phones has gotten final legislative approval, but it may be months before yakking drivers are treated like outlaws in New York.

If Gov. George Pataki signs the bill, as he has said he would do, the ban would begin Nov. 1, although drivers caught using hand-held cell phones will be issued only warnings during the first month.

And violators could have their tickets dismissed until the end of February if they present the judge with a receipt showing they bought a hands-free cell phone system.

The measure, adopted 125-19 in the state Assembly on Monday night, was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate last week. The governor will sign the bill into law this week, said spokesman Michael McKeon.

Opposition lingered into Monday’s night’s lengthy floor debate in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. Opponents said the law would be unenforceable and there was no proven need for it.

”We’re putting the cart before horse,” argued Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan, who complained the measure called for studying accidents involving cell phones after making their hand-held use illegal.

First-time violators of the ban would face a $100 fine. A second conviction calls for a $200 fine and every subsequent violation would cost $500.

The legislation allows for an exception for making emergency 911 calls but does not address the issue of dialing while driving. Speaker phones and CB radios are permitted.

At least a dozen localities have established bans, starting in 1999 with Brooklyn, Ohio. Bans have been proposed in 40 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And at least 23 countries, including Great Britain, Italy, Israel and Japan, bar drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

There are about 115 million cell phones in use in the United States and more than 6 million in New York state, according to industry figures.

A 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine said the hand-held phones posed about as much of a problem for drivers as drunken driving. The study found the chance of an accident was four times greater when using a hand-held cell phone.

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz said a ban on such cell phones is needed to end a patchwork of local laws that restrict or outlaw the use of car phones by drivers.

Pataki and New York’s legislative leaders joined the push after an April poll from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found 85 percent of New York voters favored the prohibition.

”The benefit is quite large in the number of deaths that we will avoid,” Assemblyman Steve Levy said.

But critics noted other distractions like eating, drinking coffee and applying makeup posed at least as much of a concern. They suggested a broader driver distraction bill would be better.

”To think that we’re going to do this when at the same time I can still use my laptop, I still can read a paper, I can still change my pants while driving 65 mph, I think there’s just something wrong,” Assemblyman Patrick Manning said.

”We seem to be reacting to polls more than relying on scientific evidence,” Assemblyman Brian Kolb said. ”We can’t eliminate stupidity.”

And Assemblyman David Townsend, a former law enforcement officer, said the ban would set ”a trap” for out-of-state drivers since it doesn’t mandate highway signs warning of the law.

”This bill is totally unenforceable in the real world,” he said.

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