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French campaign to disconnect cell phone drivers


By Peter Humi
CNN Paris Bureau

PARIS, France (CNN) -- As U.S. lawmakers ponder a law to ban the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers, safety experts find French rules that limit cell phone use are not always enforced.

France's highway code dictates that drivers should be in control of their vehicle at all times. In theory, that means drivers who eat, smoke, change the radio station or use a cell phone are breaking the law.

But research has shown almost 70 percent of all calls in France are to, or from, people in vehicles. Safety organizations want the laws re-written.

"It's not on a firm legal basis. So we have been asking for explicit, new rules," said Marie-Antoinette Dekkers of the French Road Safety Association.

The police in Paris and other big cities do occasionally crack down.

During one recent blitz, authorities gave drivers who were caught using a cell phone behind the wheel, or infringing minor driving rules, the choice of a fine or attending a police crash course. The current maximum fine for using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of $135.

But at least one policeman was reduced to yelling, "Hey, your cell phone," at a passing motorist.

Accident prevention groups argue the penalties for driving while phoning should be tougher.

"There is no demerit-point penalty. It would be more efficient if you were to lose one point on your driving license," said Dekkers. That would be similar to the penalty for speeding, which in France, can result in six points on a driver's license. Twelve points means the driver loses his license.

Despite the effort to tighten safety laws, 7,600 people died in traffic accidents in France last year. And while figures don't exist in France of how many of those accidents were related to the use of cell phones, research in Britain has show drivers are four times more likely to be distracted if they are talking on their mobile phones.

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