- Associated Press - Friday, August 1, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Motorists travelling through New Hampshire are seeing electronic highway signs warning them about distracted driving - the first messages in what will become a full-blown public awareness campaign about a law that banning the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving.

The bulk of the distracted driving law takes effect next July 1, but a provision requiring the public be educated is in effect now. A message greeting motorists that started Friday says “Hands Free, A Better Way to Be.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law last week. It makes hand-held cellphone use punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses within a 24-month period.

The ban will apply while drivers are stopped temporarily, such as at red lights, but not if they have pulled off a roadway. The law allows hands-free cellphone operation, but prohibits drivers from texting, emailing and programming GPS systems while the car is in motion.

Current law only bars texting while driving, which New Hampshire State Police Lt. Matt Shapiro called inadequate.

“We rarely can tell if someone’s texting or dialing or browsing unless it’s in the most serious crashes, usually fatal crashes, where there’s a search warrant,” he said. Under the new law, Shapiro said, “it’s all prohibited.”

The law also will ban all cellphone use by minors behind the wheel. Emergency calls are exempt.

Shapiro said the big push to promote the new law would be concentrated in the weeks before it takes effect.

“We’ll start with some of the messaging items that don’t cost anything,” Shapiro said. He said he spoke this week with Department of Motor Vehicle officials about including the ban in the video loop that plays in all DMV branches.

He said there also might be a spurt of advertising the week before the December holidays.

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