A proposed ban on teenage drivers' use of cell phones should cover all North Dakotans, says a legislator who wants to change his bill to regulate cell-phone use in cars.
Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, suggested the change Friday during a House Transportation Committee hearing on his legislation. It was drafted to bar drivers younger than 18 from talking on cell phones, surfing the Internet and sending text messages while they drove.
Klemin said his bill provoked a number of e-mail and phone messages from North Dakotans who thought adult drivers using cell phones were as much of a problem as teenagers.
"I did introduce this bill because I thought that teen drivers were more at risk than other people, and I think the studies bear that out," Klemin said. "However, I think I've seen the rationale (for applying it to adults) from a lot of the constructive criticism I've received."
Tom Balzer, managing director of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, said the proposed change would spark more opposition to the bill. The group represents truckers and the transportation industry.
"The cell phone is the new CB. These guys depend on this as their livelihood, part of their business," Balzer said. "To call ahead, to retailers and receivers of the shipment, to say, 'Hey, I'll be there in an hour.'"
As introduced, Klemin's legislation made it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to use a cell phone while driving. The penalty was a $20 fine and four penalty points against the offender's drivers' license.
In North Dakota, six penalty points against a driver younger than 18 means a license revocation, and the driver must begin the process of qualifying for a license all over again, as if he or she never had one.
Klemin's proposed amendment, which the Transportation Committee may consider next week, would prohibit any vehicle's driver from using a cell phone, keep the $20 fine and reduce the penalty points for an offense from four to two.
Mandan attorney Tom Kelsch, a lobbyist for Alltel Corp. of Little Rock, Ark., said the company opposed penalizing drivers for using cell phones. Driver education and training in safe cell phone use is a better method, Kelsch said.
Existing laws against careless or reckless driving should be sufficient to handle drivers who commit offenses because they're talking on their cell phones, Kelsch said. Drivers face many distractions, and it is unfair to single one out and make it a crime, he said.
Kelsch held up a portable music player and his cell phone, saying it would be illegal to use one, but not the other - even though the music player would drown out sirens and car horns if he wore its ear-bud headphones.
"I'm not sure what the difference is," Kelsch said. With a music player, he said, "I always have to look down, and see what song, or change what song it's on, or even just to see what song is playing."
The bill is HB1196.