UPDATED: Governor expected to OK hand-held cellphone ban behind the wheel
CONCORD — If you use a hand-held cellphone when you drive, you will need to change your ways in a little over a year.
The House agreed Wednesday to the Senate’s version of a bill banning the hand-held use of cellphones or other electronic devices while driving.
“The governor is likely to sign the bill,” Gov. Maggie Hassan’s press secretary William Hinkle said.
Too many drivers are surfing the Internet, reading texts and playing video games while driving, House Bill 1360 supporters said, making roads more and more dangerous.
The bill would ban the hand-held use of a cell phone, GPS, i-Pad or other communication device while operating a vehicle, sitting at a stop sign or stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, unless there is an emergency.
Hands-free use by speaker phone, BlueTooth or on-board car phone would be allowed, as would hands-free use of a GPS or other electronic device. Using a two-way radio is allowed under the bill.
However, those younger than 18 and driving would be banned from using any of the devices in any circumstance, except for a 911 call.
The bill will not go into effect until July 1, 2015, after an education campaign to alert drivers to the change in law.
At a public hearing last month, law enforcement, family members of victims of texting drivers, auto dealers and manufacturers, cellphone companies, businesses and advocacy groups, and state agencies turned out to support the bill.
Department of Safety statistics over the last three years shows distracted driving is a factor in 27 percent of fatal accidents, resulting in 116 deaths.
Safety officials said only drunk and drugged driving causes more deaths on the state’s highways.
“We know that cell phones and mobile devices are a major distraction for all drivers, threatening the safety of roadways for all of us,” said Pete McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association, after the House sent the bill to the governor. “We need to send a clear message to all drivers: put down the cell phone and keep your eyes on the road.”
Opponents of the bill have argued current laws need to be enforced before new laws are passed.
They say the bill moves New Hampshire closer and closer to “a nanny state,” and government should not be interfering in people’s lives.
But McNamara said the evidence shows something needs to be done.
“New Hampshire’s accident statistics show the current law is just not strong enough,” he said. “In 2012, our state police wrote over 100,000 tickets and only 16 were for texting and driving. More people are using their phones while driving, and fatal accidents are on the rise. We need to do something.”
Under the bill, a first-time offender would be fined $100.
The fine would be $250 for a second offense and $500 every time after that for a two-year period.