Teen cell phone ban gets approval from legislative panel

JUNEAU — The state House Transportation Committee on Thursday approved a ban on cellphone use by minors while driving, sending the measure onto another legislative panel.


Previously attempted bans have fallen short, but Anchorage Democratic Rep. Berta Gardner said her proposal in HB128 stands a better chance because she focuses on drivers younger than 18 and only on talking while driving.

“I think we can build a consensus about cellphones with minors,” Gardner said. “There’s a disproportionate chance of accidents, injury and death with young drivers. This isn’t a tough one to support.”

Before sending Gardner’s bill to the Judiciary Committee, there was contention over the fact that it only called for officers to issue citations if someone is stopped for another violation.

“I do have a problem making a law where (officers) can’t stop somebody,” said Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell. “Why have it if you can’t enforce it?”

Gardner said the point in her approach is that it’s impossible to tell someone’s age while they are driving, so it’s better to keep adults from getting pulled over and hassled for their identification.

Broader bans on cellphone use while driving have stalled in committee, and that type of restriction is not expected to move this session. But one proposal that would affirm the state’s ban on texting while driving has cleared two House committees and now awaits a hearing in the Finance Committee.

HB255 is intended to fix a law created in 2008, when lawmakers thought they banned the practice. One magistrate called the language in that law too vague to enforce and said legislators should explicitly ban “texting” if that was their intent.

The state is in the process of appealing the decision, but Reps. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, and Bill Thomas, R-Haines, worked together on a bill they say addresses the problem, instead of waiting to see how the court process plays out.

Their suggestion is a ban of “reading or typing a text message” while driving that avoids other questions of cellphone while driving.


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