Cellphone ban in school zones advances

Drivers would be banned from using cellphones in school zones during posted hours under a bill that won narrow approval Tuesday in the House Transportation Committee.

The vote was 8-7.

The measure, House Bill 370, next faces action in the full House.

State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, said the proposed law is a small inconvenience to ensure the safety of children.

“It is not all day, every day,” Thompson said of his proposed restriction.

The bill would prohibit drivers from engaging in a call, writing or sending a text message or reading or posting messages on a social networking site.

First-time violators would be subject to fines of up to $175, then up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

State Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany and a member of the committee, said he likely would have opposed the bill until last Friday.

Mack said on that day he was driving in Hammond, checked his cellphone “and I rolled into another driver.

“It happens and it happened to me on Friday,” he said.

Thompson said the bill is especially needed because children crossing streets near a school are often distracted themselves.

State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, opposed the bill.

Ivey said it is obvious to drivers when they enter school zones.

He said there is a key difference between taking part in a conversation compared to dialing.

“If you are engaged in a call you are not really distracted,” he said.

Thompson replied, “I just respectfully disagree.

When you are in a school zone, I like for you to have both of your hands on the wheel.”

Committee member State Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, said he has never backed bills to restrict cellphone use but would support Thompson’s measure.

State Rep. Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose, opposed the proposal.

Gisclair said motorists have already slowed to 15 to 20 mph in a school zone.

“So your attention is really, really focused,” he said. “I think I’m a pretty safe driver.”

Gisclair said that, if he is engaged in a business call and tells the person he is talking to hang on while he moves through a school zone, that person will likely hang up.

“People are driving safely with our cellphones,” he said.

Thompson countered that the risk to children outweighs any minor inconvenience to motorists.

He said the bill was suggested by police in Bossier City.