Phones In The Car A Hard Ban To Enforce
LIANE HANSEN, host:
For those who travel by car in the U.S., a number of states are cracking down on cell phone use while driving. Colorado is among several states with a new ban on texting behind the wheel. The state has also banned teenage drivers from using cell phones. But as Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports, those bans may be hard to enforce.
KIRK SIEGLER: OK, so I'm driving down I-25 through downtown Denver. It's very busy, obviously - there's cars all around me. I've got one hand on the wheel and one on my cell phone - perfectly legal under our law - but what if I start punching in numbers here on my phone? I'm going to dial the security code for my voicemail. This looks like texting, even though I'm not really sending an actual text. But am I breaking the law? A bit of a gray area, right?
Mr. JOE PELLE (Sheriff, Boulder County): Right. Or you may be looking up contact information or an address en route to an appointment.
SIEGLER: That's Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. He says the texting ban is subjective. Technically, it's still legal to punch in the number or look something up.
Mr. PELLE: The other thing that's difficult to enforce with this particular statute is in driving down the road, you see someone on the cell phone, you know, are they 18 or are they 17? And do you pull them over for that?
SIEGLER: Pelle's department hasn't made a single citation for texting since Colorado's ban went into effect a month ago. But he says the measure has created more public awareness, and that's a good thing.
(Soundbite of traffic)
SIEGLER: In the parking lot of a suburban shopping mall north of Denver, Wesley Lowe(ph) says he's tried to cut down on using his phone altogether since the ban went into effect.
Mr. WESLEY LOWE: I talk when I drive. I don't really text that much. I do every now and then, but not really. I try to catch myself when I do it.
Ms. KELSEY KABASIC(ph): Yeah, kind of the first day even I was, like, all right, got to watch it, kind of.
SIEGLER: That's 17-year-old Kelsey Kabasic.
Ms. KABASIC: 'Cause I always have my phone in my lap, you know?
SIEGLER: She admits she still uses her cell every now and again while driving, even though as a teenager in Colorado, she shouldn't be on her phone at all.
Ms. KABASIC: Well, I'm tempted. I usually don't. Sometimes at a stoplight maybe, but looking for cops, I guess.
SIEGLER: But even that is a good first step, according to State Representative Claire Levy. She pushed Colorado's texting ban through the legislature. Levy is quick to deflect criticism that the state's new law is just a feel-good measure. It's on the books, she says, and that's going to deter some drivers from picking up their phones.
State Representative CLAIRE LEVY (Democrat, Colorado): I mean, look at speed limits. People treat those as just merely a suggestion but - yet there's an awareness of what's a safe speed to travel on a particular highway.
SIEGLER: Levy originally tried to ban drivers from talking on cell phones altogether if they didn't have a headset. She isn't ruling out proposing this again in the future. Six states have gone this route, but it was a tough sell for independent-minded Colorado.
State Rep. LEVY: I think that the public simply doesn't want to own up to the fact that what so many people do all day long in their cars is dangerous. People just don't want to accept that.
SIEGLER: Nationally, states seem to be trending toward banning texting over talking. A recent study out of the University of Utah concluded that drivers are six times as likely to crash while texting. The group AAA references that study as it pushes for texting bans in all 50 states by 2013. Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of texting bans in place.
Meanwhile, a bill proposed in Congress would strip federal highway money from states that don't pass texting bans. All of these crackdowns on cell phones behind the wheel are sitting well with people like Sharon Kabasic(ph). She's the mother of 17-year-old Kelsey, who we heard from earlier.
Ms. SHARON KABASIC: We've just all gotten used to that, to having instant access to communication, and we just have to retrain ourselves to go away from that again 'cause it's not worth it.
SIEGLER: Kabasic has started putting her phone in the backseat while driving so she's not tempted to pick it up.
For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.
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