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House committee not in favor of changing hands-free cell phone law

State House Bureau

March 01. 2016 7:13PM
New Hampshire's hands-free law, passed last year, prohibits the use of all hand-held devices that require data entry, including cellphones, tablets, GPS devices, iPods, iPads while driving or stopped in traffic. (Michael Krinke/File)

CONCORD — A key House committee is not in favor of changing the state’s new law prohibiting using hand-held cellphones or other electronic devices while driving.

Under House Bill 1435, police would no longer be able to stop someone for driving while holding a cellphone, GPS or similar device. Instead a driver would have to committee some other offense such as speeding or illegal lane change to be stopped and then could be charged with violating the hands-free law.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 13-5 to recommend the bill be killed when the House takes it up later this month.

Supporters of the bill said the current law is unenforceable and never should have been approved; the legislation is not the way to change behavior.

Rep. Ed Comeau, R-Brookfield, said the current law is a Fourth Amendment issue about personal security and unreasonable search and seizure. Holding his cellphone to his ear, Comeau asked, “Why is this a crime?”

“We’re trying to legislate every signal behavior,” he said. “I don’t see how you do that.”

But supporters said the law has been effective with state police saying deaths due to distracted drivers is finally beginning to decline.

Others said the law has not been in place for a year and more time is needed to determine its effectiveness, instead of changing it now.

To change the law so it is no longer a primary offense, which allows police to stop a vehicle, “flies in the face of what we are trying to do,” said Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, D-Bradford.

Committee chairman Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, said he has been cut off several times by someone with a cellphone to the driver’s ear, and barely avoided an accident.

“A lot of offenses should be enforced to the hilt,” Tholl said, “but we don’t because there are so many other things to do.”

Former Portsmouth Deputy Police Chief and Rep. Len DiSesa, D-Dover, said the law is being enforced, that is why the number of deaths from distracted driving is going down.

“You’re not being told not to use a cellphone,” DiSesa said, but not to hold it in your hand. “You should concentrate when you’re driving. Your actions affect me.”

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