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Status Report, Vol. 37, No. 7 | August 17, 2002 Subscribe

Cell phone bills in state legislatures

This year at least 22 states have considered legislation to prohibit hand-held phone use while driving. Eight more states have considered banning all cell phone use, and five have weighed proposals to enact general bans on distracted driving, including phone use if it's distracting.

New York prohibits hand-held phones, and a few other states have lesser restrictions. California, for example, requires written operating instructions for safe phone use in rental cars with cell phones. Arizona, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island don't let school bus drivers use phones while operating buses. Massachusetts requires all drivers using phones to keep at least one hand on the wheel all the time.

The absence of a specific law doesn't necessarily mean police have no recourse if they see a driver on the phone who appears to be distracted. Many states have laws against careless, negligent, or inattentive driving that could be used, depending on legal interpretation, to hold drivers using phones accountable for their actions.

Outside the United States, at least 25 countries prohibit or at least restrict using cell phones and other wireless technology in motor vehicles. Israel, Japan, Portugal, and Singapore prohibit all cell phone use while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Hand-held phone use is prohibited in the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Philippines, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Similar bans are in Hong Kong and New Delhi, India.

Drivers in the Czech Republic, France, and the Netherlands may use cell phones but can be fined if they're in a crash while phoning. In the United Kingdom, using a mobile phone while driving is listed as an example of failure to exercise proper control of the vehicle and can result in a fine.

Proposed laws introduced in state legislatures during 2002

Map of cell phone bans

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Driver cellphone use drops with N.Y. law

The percentage of drivers using handheld phones dropped by more than half after New York passed a law against it.

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