NEW CITY, N.Y. (AP) -- Gov. George Pataki has proposed a statewide ban on driving while using a handheld cellular phone -- a move other states are also considering amid concerns about whether chatting drivers are more easily distracted and more likely to crash.
A violation would count as a traffic infraction, with fines of $25 to $100, Pataki said Monday. A second violation within 18 months could cost the driver $100 to $300. The Department of Motor Vehicles could also impose points on a violator's license.
Emergency calls and calls using handsfree equipment would be permitted.
"We're seeing an explosion in the misuse of these phones," Pataki said. "If you're talking on the phone with one hand while holding onto the wheel with another, then you're not going to be as attentive. And when you're not as attentive you're going to create the risk of horrible accidents."
Restrictions on cell phone use by drivers have been proposed in 40 states, said Matt Sundeen of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. Connecticut's is the closest to enactment, having cleared its House, but is hung up in the state Senate.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver inattention causes 20 percent to 30 percent of accidents, but little data is available about how much blame can be placed on cell phones. Cell phone industry officials have countered legislators' tales of phone-related crashes with stories of their own about drivers who saved lives by making emergency calls for assistance while on the road.
Verizon Wireless, a leader in the cell phone industry, supports statewide legislation in theory, spokesman Howard Waterman said. He added, however, that the company would like to delay the effective date by up to three years "to allow wireless customers time to upgrade their phones because some of them simply do no have handsfree capability."
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