Hand-held Cell Phone Ban Marks Milestone

Gov. Jack Markell at the July 6, 2010 signing of the bill banning the use of hand-held cell phones by motorists in Delaware. (In row immediately behind Gov. Markell, from left: State Rep. Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne), State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown), State Rep. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley), unidentified man, Gov. Jack Markell, State Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) and State Rep. Darryl Scott (D-Dover).

Staff Report

It’s been one year since the bill banning the use of hand-held cell phones was signed into law and six months since it went into effect. The law prohibits drivers from using hand-held cell phones or other electronic devices to hold conversations, send text-messages or access the Internet. First-time offenders face a $50 fine, while repeat violators get hit with a ticket of between $100 and $200.

According to State Police Public Information Officer Bruce Harris, 5,439 motorists have been cited by all Delaware police agencies for violating the statute since it was first implemented at the start of the year. State Representative Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek), who was one of the prime sponsors of the legislation, says he suspects the high number of violations is a combination of some people being unaware of the law and some being unwilling to comply with it.

“I think we need to be a little more aggressive in reminding drivers that it is the law …. that they can’t use hand-held cell phones and cannot text while driving,” Rep. Miro said.

Distracted driving has become a major concern for states across the nation. On Thursday, July 7 the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a comprehensive overview summarizing distracted driving research from more than 350 scientific papers published over the last 11 years.

“Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know,” said GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha, who oversaw the report’s development. “Much of the research is incomplete or contradictory. Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.”

The GHSA is asking that states that have not already passed hand-held bans to “wait until more definitive research and data are available on these laws’ effectiveness.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia have thus far banned the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers. Representative Miro says while drivers face many potential distractions, the one caused by the use of cell phones is the most dangerous. That stance is supported by the National Safety Council (NSC), which blames cell phone use for thousands of road deaths annually. The NCS estimates that 23-percent of traffic accidents – about 1.3 million crashes per year — can be attributed to cell phone talking and texting while driving.

Representative Miro says he is convinced that Delaware’s law has saved lives and hopes that more motorists obey it before school resumes at the end of the summer.

“I do see a lot of drivers using Blue Tooth (hands-free) devices, which is a good sign that people are trying to comply with the law,” he said.