A ban on handheld cell phone use by drivers will be one of the first bills lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly will be take up next year.
Texting and driving is against the law in North Carolina. But talking on the phone is still legal for most motorists, and supporters of stronger restrictions say that is still very dangerous behavior. Neighboring Georgia passed a hands free ban that took effect earlier this year, making it the first state in the southeast to do so. Jennifer Smith of StopDistractions.org says the proposed bill in North Carolina will be very similar. “It gives a clear interpretation of the law to law enforcement – meaning you cannot hold the phone or support any part of it with your body," says Smith. "No exceptions to that. It’s very easy. If you have the phone in your hand, you’re in violation. If it’s sitting in your lap, you’re in violation.”
Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Asheville Wednesday morning that's part of a statewide tour to drum up support, Republican state senator Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County said he will introduce the hands free bill in January. He believes it will get strong bipartisan support in part because of the results of George’s law, which Smith says have been immediate. She states Georgia is on pace for an 11-year low in vehicle crash fatalities. “We also talked with TrueMotion Telematics. They have an app that rests of drivers phones, and they were able to find drivers were using their phones 22-percent less (in Georgia),” says Smith.
16 states and Washington DC have a hands free cell phone ban for drivers, while 47 states and the nation’s capital have banned texting while driving.