ST. PAUL (AP) -- A state lawmaker has introduced legislation to make cell-phone use while driving a misdemeanor -- but so far, he's found no lawmakers to co-sign his bill.
"It's a dangerous thing to do," Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, said.
Jaros -- who does not own a cell phone -- is well aware that banning the wildly popular technology in cars is a long shot. Besides little support from other lawmakers, he's facing a powerful industry and is certain to draw the ire of people who believe they can drive safely while talking on a phone.
A poll by the Yankee Group shows that 70 percent of cell-phone use occurs when people are on the go, usually in a car. And two-thirds of people who frequently use cell phones while driving oppose any restrictions, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
The Gallup poll, however, also found that 67 percent of Americans think states should pass laws making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving. Yet while restrictions and bans on mobile-phone use have been proposed in scores of cites and states, few have been enacted.
Most players in the wireless industry contend that current laws against reckless driving cover irresponsible cell-phone use.
Meanwhile, companies are actively trying to head off any bans by stepping up efforts to educate subscribers about using the phones safely in cars. Many providers are promoting hands-free headsets, and some are sponsoring high-school driver-education programs on safe cell-phone use.
Starting Monday, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association was expected to begin a $12 million nationwide drive-time radio campaign, reminding drivers about the need to use their phones safely and responsibly.
"No new laws are needed," said Dee Yankoskie, the association's manager of wireless education. "Law enforcement officers have the authority to pull over anyone who is engaging in any irresponsible activity, whether it's the irresponsible use of a cell phone or putting on makeup while driving."
Jaros' bill sets forth no fines or other punishment. He acknowledges it'll be tough enough just to get a ban. "I don't want to put too many obstacles in the way of the bill," he said.
Jaros is open to compromise. He can see the value of an exception for 911 calls. And he'll entertain replacing a ban with a requirement that drivers use headsets or speakerphones in conjunction with voice activation and voice-recognition technology.
Verizon Wireless, breaking with others in the industry, has told legislators across the country that it could accept some restrictions.
"We would support a bill requiring people to use a headset or hands-free device, allowing people to keep two hands on the wheel," said Karen Smith, a spokeswoman for the company.
By 2002, Verizon will require all its phone suppliers to provide it with phones that include voice-activated dialing and headset jacks.
Mary McFadden-Lear of St. Paul likes the idea of a law limiting cell-phone use in cars. "It seems like people can't police themselves. I have a cell phone. But it's off when I'm in the car. I need to concentrate."
A flat-out ban on cell-phone use in cars does not make sense, said Kathy Hough, of Farmington, who spends about three hours a day in the car.
"If you're careful, it's perfectly all right. If you're going to ban cell phones, you may as well outlaw smoking, talking and eating while driving."
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