November 21, 2005
CELL PHONES AND COMPUTERS IN CARS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked how PA 05-159, as amended by PA 05-220, affects the use of communications and other equipment in cars and motor homes. You were specifically interested in whether the legislation applies only to cell phones and other devices that one holds next to one's ear, or to a broader range of equipment such as amateur radio equipment and computers. The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to provide legal opinions and this report should not be considered one.
The legislation applies to people who use certain devices while driving. It applies to all types of motor vehicles, including motor homes, although there are specific provisions regarding the use of the devices in school buses and by public safety officers. The legislation explicitly covers devices beyond cell phones, including laptop and other portable computers. On the other hand, it does not appear that amateur radio equipment is a mobile telephone or a “mobile electronic device” as defined by the legislation. The debates on the bills in the House and Senate do not address this issue. However, under the legislation, a driver using any equipment could be subject to the law's penalties if he uses the equipment in a way that interferes with the safe operation of his vehicle.
The legislation does not affect the use of any of these devices by passengers, or by drivers when a vehicle is not in motion.
PA 05-159 prohibits (1) a driver from using a mobile telephone to engage in a call while the vehicle is moving unless he uses a hands-free telephone; (2) drivers operating under learners' permits or with licenses issued pursuant to requirements applicable to 16- or 17-year old license applicants from using any mobile telephone while the vehicle is moving, whether or not it has a hands-free accessory; (3) a school bus driver from using either a mobile telephone or any other electronic device in a moving bus containing passengers; and (4) any driver from engaging in an activity not directly related to the actual operation of the vehicle in a manner that interferes with its safe operation. There are several exceptions to these prohibitions, for example, making emergency calls to the police.
It defines a mobile telephone as a cellular, analog, wireless, or digital telephone capable of sending or receiving telephone communications without an access line for service. A hands-free telephone is one that has an internal feature or function or is equipped with an attachment or addition through which the user engages in a call without using either hand.
PA 05-220 subsequently amended this act to (1) expand its prohibitions to apply to the use of mobile electronic devices; (2) eliminate certain exemptions from the mobile telephone prohibitions; and (3) make it clear that prohibition on drivers under age 18 applies to any type of mobile telephone. The act defines a “mobile electronic device” as any hand-held or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing data communication between two or more people, including devices for text messaging or paging, a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, equipment capable of playing a video game or digital video disk, or equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted. A mobile electronic device does not include audio equipment or any equipment installed in the vehicle to provide navigation.