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Status Report, Vol. 41, No. 10 | December 19, 2006 Subscribe

Four states tell drivers to hang up the phone

California recently banned the use of handheld cellphones by all drivers. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the legislation that makes California the fifth U.S. jurisdiction to ban hand-held phone use on the road. The others are Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New York, and New Jersey.

The California law goes into effect in July 2008. Offenders will pay a minimum $20 for a first violation and $50 for subsequent ones.

North Carolina, Rhode Island, and West Virginia also have enacted cellphone bans. These apply to any kind of phone, not just hand-held, but the laws don't apply to all drivers. West Virginia's applies to drivers with intermediate licenses and learner's permits. The Rhode Island law and North Carolina's prohibit drivers younger than 18 from using any kind of cellphone. Eleven other jurisdictions previously enacted cellphone laws that apply to young drivers.

Institute research indicates that both hand-held and hands-free phones influence driving and increase crash risk. Young motorists are more likely than older people to talk on phones while driving (see "Phoning while driving increases year by year," Jan. 28, 2006).

Legislators beef up young driver laws

People with learner's permits in Kentucky now are required to accumulate 60 hours of practice driving, 10 of them at night, under a law that took effect in October. Another new provision prohibits learners from driving with more than one passenger younger than 20 (there's an exception for family members). In April, a minimum 6-month intermediate licensing phase kicks in that will maintain the passenger restriction along with a driving curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. that's already in place for people younger than 18.

Missouri legislators also have restricted passengers in vehicles driven by teens. During the first six months of licensure, beginners are limited to one passenger younger than 19 who isn't a family member. Then the limit rises to three passengers. Missouri also increased to 40 from 20 the number of hours of supervised driving learners must accumulate. Ten of the hours must be at night.

Four states boost buckle-up provisions

Alaska, Kentucky, and Mississippi have changed their belt laws to allow primary enforcement. This means police may stop motorists solely for not buckling up. Now the laws in 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are primary.

North Carolina's law allows for primary enforcement of the provision covering front-seat occupants. A new provision, effective this month, expands the law to cover all back-seat passengers (previously only those 15 and younger had to buckle up). But enforcement of this provision is secondary, meaning police have to stop motorists for some other violation before ticketing for this.

Institute research reveals that driver death rates decline in states that upgrade their laws to allow primary enforcement instead of secondary (see "Primary belt laws would save about 700 lives per year," Jan. 31, 2005).

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