- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

A D.C. law that took effect yesterday prohibits drivers from talking on their cellular phones without the use of a hands-free device.

The Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2003 was passed by the D.C. Council earlier this year with support from safety advocates who applauded the District for putting safety before revenue.

“The message is: ‘Driving is a very, very dangerous activity.’ We lost about 43,000 lives on our highways last year, and we had nearly 3 million injuries,” said Lon Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“Driving is not something we should be doing while we are multitasking. Driving should not be a multitasking activity. When you are driving, you should be driving. Your life and others’ [lives] depend on it,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said the bill initially focused on cell phone use, but the scope was broadened to include other activities that can distract the driver, including handling pets, applying makeup, reading and playing with electronic gadgets.

“We are very pleased that D.C.’s law focuses on the bigger issue of distracted driving. Cell phones are just one part of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 30 percent [or 3 million] of all crashes in the United States have distraction as a contributing factor,” Mr. Anderson said.

“So, unlike some other things D.C. does, [this law] indicates that money is not the driving force here. We are very pleased that safety appears to be the issue and not ticket revenue,” he said.

Capt. Kevin Keegan of the Office of Operations Command, Traffic Safety Unit, said of the new law: “We’re trying to reduce the number of crashes, and it’s all based on safety. …The City Council authored [the bill] and they are responding to technology, and this law encompasses all distractions, [which include] cell phones and electronic devices,” he said.

Capt. Keegan said the law will be enforced. Drivers caught using hand-held cell phones will receive warnings for the month of July. Tickets will be issued beginning in August.

“We are not prohibiting cell-phone use, but [you must use] a hands-free device,” he said.

Louis Walker, 44, who lives in Maryland, came to Northeast to take advantage of the new law.

“Everyone needs one of these now,” he said as he displayed a bag filled with cell-phone earpieces, which he was selling on the corner of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast.

Although Mr. Walker would not reveal the price he is asking or how many he had sold, he did say, “They sell good. Real good.”

Theresa Hines, 36, of Northeast, said she thought the law was a good idea.

“I am one of those people who is always on the phone, but I take precautions,” she said.

Sultana Aschim, 19, who was traveling from New Jersey, disagreed.

“It is not like we have all this money to go spend on new equipment,” she said, adding that she has been using her phone in the car all day.

“I don’t care,” she said.

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