Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

Doerge rejects hand-held ban

On June 10, the state House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have prohibited all drivers in Louisiana from using handheld cell phones while driving.

State Rep. Jean Doerge, D-Minden, was one that voted against House Bill 338.

"We get so many bills trying to take away peoples' rights," she said. "We don't need any more of that."

According to Doerge, one reason she chose to vote against the bill was that it called for primary enforcement if a driver is caught talking on the phone. That means police officers can stop and cite violators solely for that offense. The fines would be $125 or more for a first offense.

"That's dangerous," Doerge said. "We want to encourage people to pull over and make a call, but you should be able to use it (the phone) without getting a fine."

But even bills proposing cell phone usage while driving as a secondary offense have been voted down.

In May, HB 337 was rejected by the House Transportation Committee. This bill called for secondary enforcement of a proposed ban on handheld cell phones.

All bills proposing enforcement on cell phone usage have not been voted down, though.

Last August, Louisiana upgraded its existing text messaging ban (enacted August 2008) to primary enforcement.

That is enforced for all drivers and comes with fines up to $175 for the first offense and then $500 for subsequent offenses. The driver's insurance company could also be notified of offenses.

HB 402, which was passed by the House and Senate in May 2008, prohibits school bus drivers from using cell phones.

Other prohibitions on talking on cell phones are enforced for younger drivers. Drivers under 18 years old may not use cell phones, text-messaging units or computers while driving. Drivers with learner's and intermediate licenses must use a hands-free device for cell phones.

In March of 2010, HB 134 was proposed, but no action has been taken as of yet. This bill would establish that in liability cases, drivers using handheld electronic devices would be assumed to be at fault for any accident — "prima facie."

For the past four years, the House has voted annually on bills pertaining to cell phone and other mobile electronic device usage while driving. Most were voted down.

"This comes up each year, it seems," Doerge said. "Some things we are in favor of, but most things not. We feel you shouldn't punish people to the extreme for using a mobile device."

According to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, cell phone-related fatalities were up to 16 in 2009, and those were probably underreported.

In 2005, the number was six. A 2009 survey conducted for the commission and the Department of Transportation found 81.9 percent of Louisiana drivers that responded believe it's dangerous to use a cell phone while driving.

The June 10 vote was 55-33 against enactment of HB 338, proposed by Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes, D-New Orleans.

The Legislature will adjourn on June 23. All plans for handheld cell phone regulations are considered dead for 2011.






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