Editorial: Cell-phone law all but ignored

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The date was June 28, 2001. Calling them an “enormous threat to public safety,” New York Gov. George Pataki signed a law banning the use of a hand-held cell phones while driving in the state.

It’s hard to believe more than seven years have passed since Pataki, surrounded by people who lost loved ones in accidents involving cell-phone use, signed the law that made New York the first state in the nation to enact such a ban.

But here’s one thing that isn’t hard to believe: The cell-phone law may be the most widely ignored statute in state history.

Take a look around and count the number of drivers you see whizzing down the road while gabbing on their cell (perhaps you are one of them). They don’t appear at all worried that they’ll get caught.

Shortly after Pataki signed the law, cell-phone use in vehicles did go down. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers that works to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, the rate of state drivers chatting on cell phones declined from 2.3 percent before the law went into effect to 1.1 percent in the first few months after the law was passed.

By March 2003, however, the rate had risen to 2.1 percent, and while the institute hasn’t done a study since, it’s likely the rate has increased to match — or surpass — pre-law levels.

Certainly, a lack of enforcement has led to more chatting drivers on the roads. State lawmakers who pushed the legislation all those years ago say there is no targeted enforcement of the law, such as seat belt checkpoints. And the threat of a hefty fine — offenders could pay up to $100 if caught — doesn’t seem to be a deterrent.

Whatever the arguments are over what has been called a “victimless crime,” it’s only victimless until someone gets hurt. The fact is driving while talking on a cell phone is still dangerous, people shouldn’t be doing it, and police should strive for more than sporadic enforcement.

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