By Victor Skinner | The Center Square Contributor
(The Center Square) — A bill to ban cellphones while driving is heading to the Louisiana Senate after House lawmakers approved the measure this week.
The House voted 55 to 38 to approve Bill 376, sponsored by Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, to ban the use of cellphones while driving, with some exceptions. A similar bill was approved in the last legislative session, but failed in the Senate.
“The only thing I’m trying to do with this bill is try to promote safe driving and talking on your cell phone,” Huval said Monday.
Huval described several recent amendments to the legislation which stated that those who break the law will not lose their driver’s license, that an officer must visually observe a driver holding a phone, that violators cannot be arrested and the addition of a sunset two years ago.
“If it’s a bill that works and helps, it continues,” Huval said. “If we see that it has flaws and causes problems, it disappears.”
HB 376 limits the fine for a violation to $100 and provides an option to do community service instead. The bill aims to prevent abuse through racial profiling by collecting information about named individuals that will be passed on to the governor and legislative leaders.
Huval relayed numerous stories from lawmakers and voters who have been involved in distracted driving crashes in recent years, including several deaths involving children.
“I’m telling you these stories because I’m not trying to take away people’s rights to use a cellphone,” he said. “I want anyone’s daughter or mother or father to have the ability to use a phone when needed. I try to promote safe driving.
HB 376 includes exceptions for law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders, as well as reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, or other emergency or serious road hazard. There are also exceptions for “a situation in which the person believes someone is at risk of serious injury or death” and “dial 9-1-1 to report a crime in progress.”
The bill stipulates that “for any offense that occurred before January 1, 2023, the judicial police officer will only issue a written warning”. HB 376 also prohibits police from accessing or confiscating a wireless communication device without a warrant.
Huval described how HB 376 takes a more lenient approach than Louisiana’s current distracted driving law, which prohibits texting and social media use while driving a vehicle.
“The current law … a driver can be stopped for texting or using social media while driving and there is no protection against a search of a driver, their phone, their car and it does not protect against arrest of the driver,” he said. . “The current fine is $500 and the second offense is $1,000 and there is no community service.
“This bill, if it becomes law, the first fine would be $50 to $100 or none with community service. The second or subsequent would be $100 or community service.
HB 376 passed the House without questions or objections. The measure was backed at the House Transportation Committee in March by the advocacy group StopDistractions.org. Stop Distractions CEO Jennifer Smith told committee members that 24 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, and data from other states shows they are effective.
“Georgia’s Hands-Free Distracted Driving Crash Act in the first year the law came into effect in 2019, half of the year there was a 48% drop in distracted driving crashes” , she said. “And they’ve seen a drop of about 7-12% since then in all deaths.”
HB 376 is now heading to the Senate for consideration.