BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers tangled Monday over whether to create a new round of fines for
hold a phone while driving even if the driver is not texting.
The ‘Cell Phone Ban’ Bill would allow law enforcement to issue fines to drivers seen with a phone in hand while driving.
“It’s trying to promote safe driving,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Mike Huval, of the R-Breaux Bridge.
The fine would be less than the $175 to $500 for a texting and driving ticket. The new fine would range from $50 to $100 and could include a maximum of 15 hours of community service for a first offense.
The House postponed a vote on the bill, with lawmakers wondering how it would be enforced and whether it would discriminate against the poorest people with the most basic phones.
Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, said the bill targets low-income communities.
“It won’t be possible to operate a cell phone in a car that doesn’t have Bluetooth,” Carter said.
Bluetooth technology allows hands-free phone use while driving.
Carter mentioned that he doesn’t think “prepaid phones,” a type of phone that has a prepaid number of calling minutes found at local dollar stores, have Bluetooth capability, so people who have these phones would be unable to use them while driving.
About 60% of Carter District residents earn less than the median income.
This means that someone who cannot afford a phone with Bluetooth would not be able to communicate with another person without holding the phone in their hand.
“Do you believe this discriminates against the poor who cannot afford Bluetooth or
phones with one of the national networks? Carter asked Huval.
Huval said his bill would not discriminate against anyone, protecting all ages, races and classes. He also said there is an app on phones that will allow voice operation without Bluetooth, but he wasn’t sure if that applied to prepaid phones.
Carter described the bill as being more beneficial to people who can afford a car and
phones with Bluetooth or Apple CarPlay options. Apple CarPlay allows drivers to use navigation functions, click texts, answer phone calls or change songs via a display screen controlled by voice commands or manually.
“I’m not a big fan of voice commands…I prefer the old way of pick it up or hit it,” Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said. “There is no prohibition on reaching for the center console of a screen and trying to dial numbers, search for contacts and reply to texts if the functionality is available, is it not ?”
Huval said a driver can use Apple Carplay, adding research proves it’s safer than looking down and holding a cordless phone.
Nearly 800,000 people drive while holding their cellphones during the day, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“We try to be so detailed and prescriptive about what the government doesn’t allow, we may be falling short,” Ivey said.
The House voted in favor of an amendment by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, to reduce the proposed fine from $300 to $100 to keep more people from going to jail who might not be able to pay the higher fine.
The bill passed the House Transportation Committee last week, where similar tensions arose.
Huval proposed a similar bill last year. The House passed it, but the Senate rejected it,
fears that this will harm minorities.
Huval decided on Monday to amend the bill and reintroduce it in the House later.