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Bill would ban cell use by teens behind wheel
Lawmaker to introduce legislation for second time, seeks to reduce accidents by inexperienced drivers

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Teen driving and cell-phone use will not mix if a St. Clair County lawmaker's pre-filed bill banning the practice makes it through the Legislature this year.

This is the second year that Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced a bill to restrict cell-phone use among the state's youngest drivers.

McClendon's bill would ban cell-phone use while operating a vehicle for drivers 17 and younger. The bill is assigned to the House Public Safety Committee. The committee will not meet until after the 2007 regular session of the Legislature begins March 6. A similar bill died in 2006.

The lawmaker said he wants to reduce chances that inexperienced drivers will get distracted and be involved in a wreck.

McClendon said he believes cell-phone restriction is more enforceable than some other distractions for teen drivers.

"I don't think you can outlaw mascara and Big Macs," McClendon said at the time his bill was under consideration in 2006. "I do think we can reduce cell-phone use."

The bill makes it a primary offense punishable by fine for young drivers who talk on a cell phone while driving. The law would apply to cell or wireless communications equipment, including hand-held and hands-free devices.

The bill does not address such distractions as personal grooming, selecting a radio station, drinking soft drinks, eating, choosing a CD and talking to passengers, all known to distract drivers, but hard to enforce.

McClendon said he became aware of the connection between teen driving and cell-phone use when he served on the Emergency Response to the Health Care Crisis in Alabama Commission, established by the Legislature in 2004.

Many drivers who are aware of the potential for distraction with hand-held phones switched to hands-free devices because they believe they are safer. McClendon said statistics from other states show that makes no difference.

"It is not where your hands are, but where your mind is that makes the difference," McClendon said.

At hearings on the bill during the 2006 legislative session, public safety experts said if the bill passed, it would be hard to enforce, but worth the effort to try.

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