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Bills would ban using cell phones while driving

Joe Lieberman, Ed Markey
Connecticut Sen. Lieberman, with Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, stresses the importance of cell phone research at a Tuesday news conference in Washington.  

WASHINGTON -- Two Democratic lawmakers introduced bills on Tuesday in the U.S. Congress to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The Senate version differs from the House version in that it gives states the option of banning all cell phone use in cars or allowing hands-free devices. The House version requires that hands-free devices be allowed.

Both bills would withhold highway funds from states that did not ban hand-held cell phone use in cars.

"Studies have found that close to 4,600 accidents are caused each and every day by people who are distracted. That's 20 to 30 percent of all accidents that occur," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York, who introduced the bill to the House.

Opponents of talking on cell phones in cars contend that carrying on conversations while driving is distracting. But there are no statistics on how many distraction-related accidents are directly related to phone use.

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    Both Ackerman, and Sen. Jon Corzine, D.-New Jersey, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, admitted to using their cell phones while driving.

    "I have been on the cell phone I don't know how many hours while driving and my wife pointed out to me not very long ago that I was all over the road while I was in an animated conversation with somebody," Ackerman said.

    The wireless communications industry has criticized the measure, noting that "common sense can't be legislated." Efforts to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving would do more than a law restricting cell phone use, said Dee Yankoskie, a spokeswoman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

    "Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it should best be left to the states and that legislation at this point is premature," Yankoskie said.

    The bills don't address the question of which is more distracting -- handling the phone itself or having the phone conversation.

    "Frankly people do have conversations in cars with passengers," Corzine said. "My own view is that we should delegate this off to the states to make their judgment about the effectiveness of it."

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