This year, House Bill 619, which would have prohibited the use of all wireless telecommunication devices in moving vehicles, unless the driver uses hands-free technology, made its way to the Senate in May but fizzled out by mid-November.
“Currently our state is 49th in the U.S. for the most distracted drivers,” Rep. Mike Huval said in a local report. “We’re the seventh highest for traffic fatalities in the United States.”
Below, the injury lawyers at Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson explain Louisiana’s current distracted driving laws and why the House-backed proposal didn’t pass.
Louisiana’s Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving is any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road.
Although distractions are apparent in a variety of driving behaviors like eating, personal grooming, tuning the radio, etc., cell phone use tops the list in our state.
In an effort to reduce crashes, cell phone laws were passed in 2008. Specifically, the laws prohibit the use of wireless telecommunication devices for text messaging while operating a vehicle.
Our laws also restrict young and inexperienced drivers: drivers less than 18 years old or in their first year of licensure are prohibited from using any wireless communication device while driving. These laws also apply to adults with a learner’s permit or intermediate license.
Furthermore, school zone laws prohibit all drivers from using any wireless device when driving through a school zone.
While these laws may seem ordinary, clarification is required to establish what’s meant by text-based communication.
For example, Louisiana’s current text ban extends to posting or communicating on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. However, it does not include manually dialing a phone number to call a friend or taking selfies.
This has made it challenging for law enforcement to enforce distracted driving laws effectively.
House Bill 619 would have closed this loophole by making it illegal to hold a cell phone in one or both hands while driving.
Why Did House Bill 619 Fail?
According to the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles, the number one driver distraction involved in most crashes is cell phone use; specifically, texting, and especially among teen drivers.
However, critics of House Bill 619 say there’s a clear distinction between holding a phone to one’s ear and responding to an email via text.
Some suggested Louisiana should change the penalty from a non-moving violation to a moving violation, which could potentially increase a driver’s insurance premiums.
Others argue the new legislation adversely affects the poor, “who don’t have newer cars with Bluetooth capability, more advanced smartphones, or money for headsets.”
It’s difficult to find consensus on the primary issue: do hands-free cell phone laws decrease crash statistics? Early studies suggested they do not, but many proponents of hands-free cell phone laws believe it’s the first step in the right direction.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “We know that high-visibility campaigns and enforcement, like Click It or Ticket and Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest has had a positive influence on driver behavior. That’s why seat belt use is at an all-time high of 84 percent and drunk driving is declining.”
More than a dozen states have implemented bans similar to House Bill 619, but inaction from the Louisiana Senate killed the proposal in November.
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