General Assembly Considers Cell Phone Ban for Drivers

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Bills are making their way through the North Carolina General Assembly that could make it a crime to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. The bill specifically excludes hands-free phone use but does encompass texting and smart phone web access. Penalties include fines and misdemeanor charges.

The law would replace the existing statute that bars teens under 18 from using a cell phone while driving. All drivers, including school bus drivers, would be covered by the proposed legislation. As far as the scope of the ban, specifically the use of a mobile telephone is barred, while more general language is used to bar “any additional technology associated with a mobile telephone.” Additional technology is defined as anything that provides access to electronic media, like a camera, music, the web, games, e-mail and texting. The list is not exclusive.

Hands-free operation is one exception, as is using the phone when the vehicle is stopped. Emergency use, of course, would also be allowed.

The penalty for everyone but school bus drivers would be a $100 fine. Violators would not incur points on their driver’s licenses or insurance surcharges. School bus drivers would face a fine of at least $100 and a Class 2 misdemeanor. A Class 2 misdemeanor carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days (if there are no prior convictions).

Finally, the bills address the role of cell phone use while driving in civil suits. In an accident, use of a cell phone, hands-free or not, would not constitute negligence per se or contributory negligence. “Negligence per se” occurs when a person violates a statute; it takes the question of negligence away from the jury or judge. As for contributory negligence: If Joe were using a cell phone at the time of an accident and then sued Sarah for damages, Sarah could ask the court to reduce the damage award because the cell phone had been a distraction, the cause of Joe’s contributory negligence.

Source: General Assembly of North Carolina, House Bill 44, 02/03/11