Topic:
TELEPHONE; LEGISLATION; TRAFFIC REGULATIONS;
Location:
TRAFFIC REGULATIONS;

OLR Research Report


March 31, 2004

 

2004-R-0321

LEGISLATION ON DRIVING WHILE USING CELL PHONES

 

By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for summaries of legislation introduced this year (HB 5553) to ban the use of cell phones while driving and last session's distracted driving bill (SB 441). You also want to know which other states and cities have restricted the use of cell phones while driving.

CONNECTICUT LEGISLATION

HB 5553 would ban, starting January 1, 2005, any driver from using a mobile electronic device, e.g., a personal data assistant, to perform any personal computer function, send or receive any electronic mail, play any video game or digital video disk, or take or transmit any digital photograph while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway or private road.

The bill would also generally ban drivers from using hand held cell phones on highways and roads as of this date. It provides exceptions for:

1. using a cell phone while driving a vehicle alone if the driver reasonably fears for his safety or reasonably believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against him;

2. using a cell phone to contact an emergency 9-1-1 system to report what he reasonably believes to be an emergency or the commission of a crime or motor vehicle violation;

3. using a cell phone while driving a school bus with passengers to call for assistance in the case of a mechanical breakdown or an emergency that endangers the driver or passengers; or

4. a peace officer, a firefighter, or a driver of an ambulance, emergency vehicle, bus, school bus without passengers, taxi cab, or tow truck who uses a mobile telephone while acting in the performance of his duties and within the scope of his employment.

Neither provision applies to passengers. A driver who violates either provision is subject to a fine of up $75 for a first offense, up to $150 for a second offense, and up to $250 for a subsequent offense. A first offense is an infraction and all offenses must go through the Centralized Infractions Bureau. Any law enforcement officer who issues a summons for a violation must cite the specific nature of any distracted driving behavior he observed on the summons form.

In 2003, the legislature considered but did not pass SB 441, An Act Concerning Distracted Driving. The bill would have prohibited a driver from engaging in any activity while driving that is not related to the actual operation of the vehicle and interferes with its safe operation. The prohibition did not apply to (1) using a telecommunications device to call 911 or to communicate with an emergency response operator, hospital, physician's office, health clinic, ambulance company, fire department, or police department about an emergency situation or (2) any police or peace officer, operator of an emergency vehicle, or member of a fire unit or department while they are performing official duties.

The bill would have required anyone who commits certain moving violations while engaged in an activity that interferes with a vehicle's safe operation to pay an additional $75 fine besides the penalty imposed for the moving violation. Moving violations include such things as speeding and reckless driving. The bill would have required a police officer issuing a summons for distracted driving to identify the cause of the distracted driving on the back of the summons form in the area designated “report to prosecutors.”

LAWS IN OTHER STATES

New York and New Jersey, and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using hand-held mobile phones while driving. Eight states prohibit or limit their use in certain circumstances, including seven that prohibit their use while driving a school bus and two that prohibit their use by drivers under age 21 with a learner's permit (see Table 1). No state currently prohibits hands-free cell phone use.

Table 1: State Laws on Cell Phone Use While Driving

State

Restriction

Statute or Rule

Arizona

Prohibits bus drivers from using cell phones while operating a school bus

Ariz. Admin. Code Title 17, Ch. 9, Art. 1 R17-9-104

Arkansas

Prohibits the use of cell phones while driving a school bus

Ark. Code Ann.

6-19-120 (2003)

Illinois

Prohibits school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving except in emergencies

625 I. L. C. S. 5/12-813. 1

Maine

Requires persons under age 21 to obtain a learning permit and finish training before obtaining a driver's license, prohibits a person with an instruction permit from using a cell phone while driving

29-A. M. R. S.

1304 (2003)

Massachusetts

Prohibits the use of cell phones while driving school buses

Mass. Gen. Laws

Ch. 90 7B (2004)

New Jersey

Prohibits the use of a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle, allows hands-free devices

Prohibits drivers younger than 21 years old who have only a learner's permit from using a cell phone while driving

Prohibits the use of cell phones while driving school buses

SB 338, enacted January 20, 2004

P. L. Chapter 420, Codified as N. J. R. S. 39: 3-13

2002 N. J. Laws 120

New York

Prohibits drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle

N. Y. C. L. S. Veh. & Traf. Code

1225-c (2003)

Rhode Island

Prohibits the use of cell phones while driving school buses, except in emergencies

R. I. Gen. Laws

31-22-11. 8

Tennessee

Prohibits the use of cell phones while driving school buses

Tenn. Code Ann. 58-8-192

Washington, D.C.

Prohibits the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, except in emergencies

B15-0035, enacted January 6, 2004

Source: Based on National Conference of State Legislatures, Cell Phones and Highway Safety, December 2003

As described in OLR memo 2004-R-0233, 15 local jurisdictions in six states prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. On the other hand, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon prohibit local jurisdictions from restricting cell phone use while driving (National Conference of State Legislatures, Cell Phones and Highway Safety, December 2003).

KM:nf