D.C. Council Tells Drivers to Hang Up Cell Phones
The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval on December 2 to legislation that would outlaw using mobile phones while driving except in emergencies or with a hands-free device, bringing the city closer to joining a growing number of jurisdictions nationwide in banning the practice, reported the Washington Post newspaper on December 3. The bill must pass a final vote next month, but the action suggested that will be only a formality. If passed, the law will take effect in July, with a penalty of $100 but no points on the license of drivers who violate it. The fine would be suspended for first-time violators who show proof of purchasing a hands-free accessory. "Every day, it seems, we see drivers out there more engaged with their telephones than they are with the roads. I see it, you all see it — and, I must admit, from time to time I've been guilty of it," council member Carol Schwartz said. "This is, I believe, a serious safety issue involving our citizens," Schwartz added. A spokesman for Mayor Anthony Williams said it was too early to say whether the mayor would sign or veto the bill. In introducing the Mobile Telephone Safety Act of 2003, Schwartz pointed to a poll by AAA Mid-Atlantic showing that 63 percent of motorists in the region want restrictions on hand-held cell phones, while 18 percent are opposed. In the District, motorists were most adamant, favoring a ban by 76 to 14 percent — more than 4 to 1, Schwartz said. Since the law — which would apply to residents and nonresidents — would not go into effect until summer, motorists have plenty of time to obtain hands-free devices, Schwartz said. Although many municipalities across the country have laws mandating hands-free devices for drivers using cell phones, only New York has a statewide ban. Lobbyists for the cellular phone industry reacted with dismay to the council's action. "There's no research that shows hands-free is necessarily safer," said Kim Kuo, spokeswoman for the District-based Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. "Nobody is proposing to ban to-go coffee cups or radios in cars. Those are not just equal, too, but more dangerous. Cell phones are way down the list."