- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Several New Hampshire legislative proposals to cut down on distracted driving - from bans on electronic devices to outlawing applying makeup or reading a newspaper while behind the wheel - received universal support during a nearly two-hour committee hearing Tuesday.

One bill would ban hand-held cellphone use while driving while another would prohibit cellphone use by school bus, taxi and livery drivers. A third bill bans all electronic devices and other forms of distracted driving, including applying makeup and reading newspapers.

Police, health and highway transportation officials spoke in support of a ban. The measures will be discussed further during the legislative session.

The transportation committee hearing comes just weeks after the fatal hit and run of retired Amherst fire chief John Bachman by a 20-year-old motorist who told police he was texting while driving and thought he had hit a snowbank. It was only after seeing media reports that Travis Hobbs, of Mont Vernon, turned himself in to police.

State law bans only 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.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that talking on a cellphone - though not illegal - could be grounds for convicting a driver of criminally negligent homicide.

New Hampshire State Police Lt. Matt Shapiro, who oversees the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit, expressed strong support for the more comprehensive bill.

“In the last six years, as many as 28 percent of New Hampshire’s fatal crashes related to distracted driving,” Shapiro said. “The current law is insufficient and many times unenforceable.”

Shapiro said most illegal texting while driving is done using one hand and below the sight line of a police officer looking at a driver.

The proposals would allow hands-free communications and use of cellphones by police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers but only in emergency situations. The more comprehensive bill would also ban hands-free cellphone use by drivers under the age of 18.

“Every year we’re losing a whole lot of people in New Hampshire and a whole lot of people are experiencing life-threatening injuries,” said Howard Hedegard of the New Hampshire Traffic Safety Institute. “Many people will only change their behavior when there’s a law that tells them to.”

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

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