- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Hand-held cellphone use should be treated like driving drunk and should be banned in New Hampshire to save lives, safety officials and others told a Senate panel Tuesday.

Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney told the Senate Transportation Committee that drivers could still use hands-free phones, devices built into the vehicle and two-way radios.

Sweeney compared the distraction of driving and talking on a cellphone held to someone’s ear to driving drunk.

“During the horse and buggy days, no one worried if you were drunk because your horse wasn’t,” said Sweeney.

Sweeney said government has a responsibility to enact laws that protect people who are driving impaired whether from drinking alcohol or talking on a cellphone.

Opponents argued the proposal goes too far, would be difficult to enforce and could lead to more restrictive laws.

“What’s next? Is it cigarettes? Women doing their makeup or hair?” asked Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican.

Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, questioned why the bill would exempt hand-held radio communication but not holding a cellphone on speaker in front of someone’s face.

“In the one case it would be legal; in the other, it wouldn’t be,” he said.

State law currently bans typing and sending text messages while driving but does not prohibit reading text messages, surfing the Internet, dialing cellphones or programming GPS devices while driving.

Twelve states prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones and 41 states ban text messaging, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Council. Six other states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

The House-passed bill also would ban all cellphone use by minors behind the wheel. The ban would apply while drivers are stopped temporarily, such as at a red light, but not if they have pulled over and stopped. The bill doesn’t apply in an emergency.

“This applies to everyone: state police, firefighters, politicians,” said House Transportation Chairwoman Candace Bouchard, D-Concord.

Greenland Police Chief Tara Laurent said that was acceptable to her.

“I need to stop just as much as anyone else out there,” said Laurent, speaking in support of the bill for the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

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