UPDATE: N.C. Lawmakers Debate Cell Phone Ban

Senators fired questions Tuesday at the sponsor of a bill to ban drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones, and diluted the measure with amendments to reduce punishment and allow motorists to call a loved one in an emergency.

While support for separate legislation to bar drivers from texting on cell phones this year appears to be strong, the ban on calling while driving got lukewarm support from several members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

"I don't think we can protect everybody in every situation," said Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, who said eating in the car can lead to inattentive driving. "That's a lot more distracting, particularly when you start dropping chili on your tie."

The sponsor, Sen. Charlie Dannelly, agreed to some changes because he wanted to make the bill as palatable to as many members as possible. It won't get a final committee vote until at least next week.

The bill would expand on a 2006 law that prohibits drivers under
18 years old from talking on the phone, except in an emergency and
while talking to a parent or emergency personnel.

Dannelly's measure would apply to all drivers in vehicles with motors running, although adults using handsfree phones would be exempt.

Committee members cited studies showing that other forms of distraction -- eating, adjusting the radio or daydreaming -- also are
dangerous.

On a voice vote, the committee narrowly approved an amendment
reducing the penalty from $100 to $25 and deleting the obligation
to pay court costs.


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