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By Fred Black

“Your Honor, I Saw His Lips Moving!”

By Fred Black Posted June 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

“Your Honor, I Saw His Lips Moving!” Can you imagine one of our fine police officers having to appear in court to explain why they issued a ticket for talking on a cell phone and uttering those words? Once again, the topic is hot and the discussion on banning cell phone use while driving includes ALL cell phone use. Understand that this action has been on the back burner, awaiting action by the General Assembly, but there is no North Carolina legislation yet, so the Town Council may move forward anyway.
 
Today, nine states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Except for Maryland, all laws are primary enforcement. This means that an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.  No state bans ALL cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for all drivers, but 30 states and D.C. prohibit all cell phone use by novice drivers, and bus drivers in 19 states and D.C. may not use a cell phone when passengers are present.
 
There seems to be plenty of evidence that tells us using a cell phone while driving impairs the driver’s ability, something some call the “distracted driver” problem. Many view the use of Bluetooth devices in the ear or those built into the auto as safer than holding a phone, but research data says that both handheld and hands-free usage creates the same distraction issues.  Therefore, for our safety and the safety of others, we have this call for banning ALL cell phone use.
 
So how do we do this, just pass an ordinance? The last thing we need is another law on the books that is virtually impossible to enforce. To me, having laws that are difficult, if not impossible to enforce just makes the situation worse, worse because we will continue on that downward slope where people lose respect for our laws.
 
Do we really want our police officers trying to determine if those moving lips are engaged in a phone conversation, talking to a passenger, or simply singing a song? And how safe is that police officer driving down the street while trying to figure out why those lips are moving? I suspect that a very, very small percentage of phone calls in cars are emergencies or so important that a delay would have an impact. Let’s face it; we talk on the phone while driving because we can!  Making it illegal so as to change our behavior only works if you can enforce it.  We need a better solution!
 
I have yet to hear of anyone with a good enforcement plan for an ordinance banning hands-free phones. As a first step we need to educate people on the dangers, knowing in advance that it won’t solve the issue in its entirety, but it can help. We need to ensure that whatever we do doesn’t lead to another ignored law, or worse, more disrespect for our laws. And whatever we do, we surely don’t want any of our police officers to have to utter, “Your Honor, I pulled him over because I saw his lips moving.”  

What do you think?  Leave your comments below.

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