The flaws in the cell phone ban

Taking shots like this would be illegal with a phone, but OK with an old-fashioned camera.

Albany Rep. Andy Olson's bill against distracted driving caused by cell phone use has been much amended and now has cleared the Senate. But it still has one problem: It makes no sense.

Republicans in the Senate tried to send HB 2597 back to committee but didn't have the votes. So on Thursday, the Senate passed the amended version, 21-8. If the House goes along with the amendments, we'll end up with a law that makes harmless actions illegal and yet is unlikely to reduce distracted driving much, if at all.

Under the bill as passed by the Senate, drivers commit an offense if they use a "mobile electronic device" for any purpose at all, even if they just hold it in one hand. Strangely, though, the prohibition does not apply to a person who touches the device to turn it on or off. Or to one who operates a two-way radio.

So you'd be violating the law if you pick up your phone to keep it from falling off the center console tray when you have to brake. But if your phone stored in the glove compartment keeps on ringing, it would NOT be illegal to lean across, rummage around till you found it, and then turn it off.

It would be a violation to glance at a map on the screen of your hand-held phone while you're stopped at a red light. But it would NOT be against the law to unfold a map, spread it out on the steering wheel and try to get your bearings that way.

And if you saw something worth recording while driving along, you could reach for your old Nikon, point it out the window and shoot some frames. But if you did the same with your phone, with much less trouble or distraction, that would be against the law.

Everybody understands the problems that distracted drivers can cause. But why create yet another law that encourages the police to write potentially expensive tickets for just holding a phone in your hand? (hh)



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