There are two bills before the Kentucky Legislature that would prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles.
- House Bill 41 would make it illegal for anyone to use a cell phone while driving unless they were using a hands-free device, like Bluetooth. The bill provides limited exceptions in emergency situations to contact an ambulance or the police. The bill also allows individuals who are pulled over on the side of the road, at rest stops or other safe areas to use hand-held cell phones.
- House Bill 46 applies a complete cell phone and texting ban on drivers under 18 years old who have a permit, intermediate or operator's permit. The ban would not allow teen drivers to use hands-free devices and would cover not only cars, but also mopeds and motorcycles. The bill also contains an emergency exception, allowing teen drivers to use cell phones to call the police or for medical help. They also may use phones while the vehicle is idling or stopped.
- Adults who violate the cell phone ban would receive warnings up until January 1, 2010. After January 1, 2010, violators could be fined between $20 and $100 for each violation of the law.
- Drivers less than 18 years of age who violate the cell phone or texting ban would have an additional 180 days added to the time period before they could apply for an intermediate license or operator's permit.
The cell phone ban would not apply to those operating emergency or public safety vehicles nor would it apply to the use of global positioning systems (GPS) or in-vehicle security, diagnostics or communication systems, like On-Star. Bill 41 is still being considered by the House of Representatives. Bill 46 has been passed by the House and is now being considered by the Senate.
If the Kentucky Legislature passes the cell phone ban, it will join a growing number of states who have passed similar laws. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 15 states currently have some type of ban on using hand-held phones while driving. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have texting bans, either preventing teen drivers or all drivers from sending text messages while behind the wheel.
Why are states rushing to pass legislation either prohibiting cell phone use while driving altogether or limiting it to only hands-free devices?
Many recent studies have concluded that cell phones usage contributes to driver distraction and causes motor vehicle accidents. The National Safety Council (NSC) found that 80% of all accidents are caused by driver inattention, which includes the use of cell phones. The NSC also found that drivers are 4 times more likely to be in a car accident while using a cell phone than when not. The Harvard Center of Risk Analysis conducted a study that found 6% of car accidents nationally are caused by cell phone use, which breaks down to more than 630,000 car accidents each year.
In light of these statistics, state lawmakers have taken action to limit or prohibit drivers from talking on their phones in their cars. Teen drivers, who are more prone to be involved in accidents than more experienced drivers, have been a target of these bans. Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have laws preventing drivers under age 18 from using any phone while operating a vehicle.
Criticism of Cell Phone Driving Bans
Not everyone believes cell phone restrictions will decrease the number of motor vehicle accidents. Some critics of the proposed bans argue the research shows hands-free devices are just as distracting as hand-held phones, and that states should pass complete cell phone bans. Some question the ease of enforcing these laws; a driver dialing a phone number may look rather similar to a driver sending a text message.
Others think the fines are too insignificant to deter drivers from using cell phones while driving. Finally, some argue that more government regulation will not solve the problem and that the current system of fines and punishments for negligent and reckless driving is sufficient.
Ultimately HB 41 and HB 46 may or may not pass; both bills are in currently in committee, and many bills never make it past this stage. However, given the national trends it seems likely that Kentucky drivers will eventually face cell phone restrictions in one form or another. Hopefully the Legislature will consider all of these criticisms and act cautiously before enacting new laws.