Full ban on driver calls could be tough to enforce

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“It’s a little like speeding laws where it will become just culturally acceptable to violate,” he said. He said a no-call law would be followed only if violations carried stiff penalties like those for drunken driving.

Lewis Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said a nationwide ban on using cellphones while driving would be wildly unpopular, and likely the target of legal challenges. But he believed such a law, and the methods police might use to enforce it, ultimately would be deemed as constitutional as seatbelt enforcement.

“I’m sure that it would be challenged on all sorts of constitutional grounds, including free speech,” he said in a phone call from his car. “But it seems to me that it doesn’t in any way infringe on any constitutional rights. It’s a simple safety issue.”

Whether the NTSB’s recommendations will motivate decision-makers remains to be seen, but they have certainly caught their attention.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made combating distracted driving the signature issue of his tenure, stopped short of an endorsement. His department is separate from the NTSB.

“My focus is going to be on preaching to people: Take personal responsibility. Put your cellphone and your texting device in the glove compartment when you get behind the wheel of a car,” LaHood told reporters at a news conference in Chicago. “You can’t drive safely when you have your hand on a cellphone and are trying to drive a 4,000- 5,000 pound vehicle.”

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Republican, said he was wary. His state is among those that have resisted passing laws restricting drivers’ cellphone use.

Cannon said future technological advances may prove more effective than legislation at addressing driver distraction issues. As an example, he cited his new iPhone, which can make phone calls and send text messages via voice command.

“In these attempts to try and prevent every bad thing from happening,” he said, “it’s all too easy to overly restrict personal freedoms and individual rights and responsibilities.”

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, the top law enforcement official in Palm Beach County, Fla., said that if lawmakers take the NTSB’s suggestions to heart, they should address all manner of distracted driving.

“I see women putting makeup on. I see a guy with an electric shaver. I see one woman with a newspaper. I see a guy with a dog in his hands. All of those are worse than texting,” he said.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said training would be key to enforcing any ban. Officers are already looking for unbuckled seat belts and swerving drivers; they’d have to add to their mental checklists.

“It’s something that is not insurmountable,” Bond said. “How you’re going to spot it, or how you’re going to look for it _ you have to acclimate the troops and acclimate the operations as to how to do this.”

Chief Walter McNeil of Quincy, Fla., president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said enforcement of a total ban would be difficult, but that distracted driving needs to be addressed.

“We certainly need to deal with the overall problem with distracted drivers, and getting some level of uniformity in how we enforce that would be helpful,” he said.

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