GHSA: Ban handheld cell phone use

governors highway safety group logoThe Governors Highway Safety Association has climbed off the fence on the issue of handheld cell phone use while driving.

The group, composed of the top highway safety officers from each state, previously supported text messaging bans for all drivers and limits on electronic device use by teen drivers. But it had stopped short of endorsing bans on handheld cell phone use by all drivers, saying research was inconclusive.

Almost all public safety groups and transportation agencies have long been on the record against use of handheld cell phones by drivers.

The GHSA move, announced Sept. 6, isn’t much of a surprise as the federal government is in the process of handing out incentive grants to states that adopt comprehensive electronic distracted driving laws. (The total handheld cell phone bans sought by the GHSA go farther than the minimum requirements for grant eligibility.)

DOT chief Ray LaHood cheered the GHSA move: “The resolution passed today (by the GHSA) reflects the commitment of state traffic safety officials to ending this dangerous behavior, and the critical role they play in passing and enforcing strong state laws banning distracted driving.” LaHood’s department ultimately oversees the grant program.

The highway safety officials cited success of the DOT-funded distracted driving crackdowns in New York state and Connecticut.

The GHSA also echoed the familiar concerns of state and local law enforcement: “While texting and handheld bans are both critical, texting bans by themselves can be difficult to enforce,” the group said. “In states with texting but not handheld bans (currently 29 states), a driver may claim they were dialing a phone number when stopped by a police officer.”

The group also flirted with the issue of whether all cell phone use by drivers should be prohibited. “Passage of these laws will provide states a practical platform for discussing why any phone use while driving is dangerous,” GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said.

In late 2011, the topic of total bans on driving while using cell phones came to the forefront as the National Transportation Safety Board called for a complete ban. LaHood distanced himself from that position. “The problem is not hands-free,” the DOT chief said.

Ten states have have banned handheld cell phone use by all drivers, while 39 states have banned text messaging while behind the wheel. The federal distracted driving grants provide about $78 million in incentives for states that ban text messaging for all drivers and the use of handheld cell phones by young drivers. States that do not would not share in this additional funding but would not lose existing funding.

The GHSA distracted driving policy change, voted upon at the group’s annual meeting in August, was made public Sept. 6.

The new policy specifies:

GHSA supports state legislation that would ban hand-held cell phone use and text messaging for all drivers, electronic devices used for entertainment purposes with video screens that are within view of the driver and school bus drivers from text messaging or using electronic devices except in an emergency.


  1. If a state bans the use of hand-held phone devices while driving but allows hands-free how can this law be enforced? For instance, if I’m pulled over by the police while driving or get into an auto accident how can my phone records prove/disprove that any calls placed or received at that time were done so using hands-free technology?

    • Most traffic convictions don’t require evidence. You roll through a stop sign, the cop sees it and writes the ticket. It’s your word vs. his and good luck with that. Cell phone use is almost always a minor traffic infraction.

      Phone records generally come into play when serious injury or death results from the distracted driving. If the officer does not check to see if the phone had a hands-free attachment, then yours could be an issue in court especially if reckless driving doesn’t apply. Never heard of this happening, but could be.

      The trend in crafting legislation is to ban the holding of the wireless device. That eliminates any ambiguity as to what the driver was doing.

      Police in states that ban texting — but not phone calls — say they don’t write many tickets because it is hard to determine if someone is text messaging or simply entering a phone number. That is the usual defense.

      Thanks for the question.

  2. Al Cinamon says:

    I think these so-called “safety officers” need to do some more research. They obviously haven’t heard about “inattention blindness.” Stories abound where drivers on phones (hands free) were looking straight ahead but didn’t see any danger while driving through a red light. But, hallelujah, these safety experts have finally forced themselves to ban only hand-held phones. Shame on them for their hypocrisy.

    They’re not interested in safety. States make too much money from all the transactions that flow from traffic crashes (medical bills, repair costs, etc.). Laws that are being passed actually encourage crashing. Anti-texting laws just cause the driver to put the device in their lap and pay no attention to the road.

    Want proof? In my state, NY, crashes have increased in the first quarter of 2012. So it looks like a win-win situation. Fool the public into thinking you care about safety when in fact you increase the revenue from more crashes.

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