Last updated: June 15, 2016
Cell phone, texting news: The governor has signed into law a plan from state Sen. Yvonne Colomb to hit distracted drivers in the wallet. It establishes $500 fines for first-time offenders of the state texting law, a penalty that would double for serial offenders. Minors will pay higher fines as well. The full Senate approved the bill in mid-April and the House followed at the end of May. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Senate Bill 91 on June 13. Read the resulting Act 472, which goes into effect immediately.
Don’t like paying some of the nation’s highest auto insurance rates? Blame distracted driving. So says Louisiana’s insurance commissioner, who points the finger at cell phone use — but “even worse than that, texting while driving.” Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon told WRNO radio that litigation also is driving Louisiana’s car insurance premiums to the nation’s fourth-highest average rate. For the first half of 2016, almost a thousand crashes in the state were linked to cell phone use, LSU reports.
Louisiana upgraded its existing text messaging ban to primary enforcement in 2011. This means police can stop and cite drivers for that violation alone.
- Text messaging banned for all drivers.
- Use of social media prohibited for all drivers.
- Drivers under 18 years old may not use wireless devices — including cell phones, text-messaging units and computers — while operating motor vehicles.
- Drivers in school zones during posted hours may not use wireless devices — including cell phones, text-messaging units and computers — while operating motor vehicles.
- Drivers with learner’s and intermediate licenses prohibited from using cell phones unless a hands-free device is attached.
Distracted driving fines for adults $500 (first offense) and then $1,000. Possible with 60-day license suspension for minors and school zone violators.
Distracted driving legislation (2016):
Senate Bill 91: Would hike fines for texting and social media use while driving in Louisiana. $500 for first offense, $1,000 for those with multiple violations. (Also for use of wireless communications devices in school zones.) For minor drivers, $250/$500. Amendment added 60-day license suspensions for school-zone violations and for minors. Amended and approved by the Senate in a 35-2 vote of April 12. OK’d by the House Transportation Committee on May 16. Approved by the full House in a 70-29 vote of May 25. Final approval by the Senate in a 34-2 vote of May 30. Signed into law as Act 472 by the governor on June 13. Effective immediately. (Colomb)
Distracted driving notes (2016):
The Highway Safety Research Group at LSU reports 972 crashes linked to drivers using cell phone so far in 2016, as of mid-June. At least 331 of those crashes involved injuries.
State Rep. Paula Davis had overly connected moms in mind when she crafted House Bill 1132. The proposed law would quadruple fines for moving violations when a child under age 14 is in the vehicle. Davis wants people to “think a little more before they text … or use social media while they’re driving (with children aboard).”
2015 distracted driving notes:
Distracted driving killed 30 motorists in 2015, according to LSU’s Highway Safety Research Group. Six of those deaths were linked to electronic devices, as well as 1,033 injuries.
The Louisiana Legislature doesn’t seem interested in a hands-free law, but one lawmaker thought it might make an exception for motorists passing over the lengthy Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. State Rep. Tim Burns cited recent accidents in which vehicles have gone through railings and plunged into the lake, with bridge officials blaming cell phone use in at least two cases. Burns cited “a fairly dramatic increase of fatalities.” Burns ending up withdrawing his bill at the request of bridge officials. There do not appear to be any other distracted driving measures before the Legislature in 2015.
2014 distracted driving notes:
Parents take note: It’s against Louisiana law to use a handheld cell phone in a school district during posted hours. The law bars talking on a cell phone, text messaging and accessing “a social networking site” — basically the same restrictions in effect everywhere for state drivers under age 18.
Fines for violating Lousiana’s new school zone law are fairly stiff: Up to $175 then up to $500. Convictions are considered moving violations. The law does not apply to those who are lawfully parked.
The House signed off on a resolution in support of April’s End Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
A hands-free cell phone bill from Rep. Mike Huval withered under heavy fire in the House Transportation Committee on March 24. Critics called it a “nanny state” bill.
Another 2014 House resolution honors the work of Joel Feldman, who spreads the word about the dangers of distracted driving after losing his daughter Casey in a 2009 wreck. The family’s End Distracted Driving Student Awareness Initiative is backed by the Louisiana Association for Justice, the resolution from state Rep. Walt Leger notes.
2014 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 370: Would prohibit use of cell phones and other wireless communications devices in school zones during posted hours. Does not apply to parked vehicles. Moving violation. Fine: Up to $175 then up to $500. Fine doubled if accident results. Approved by the Transportation Committee in an 8-7 vote of April 1. Approved by the full House in an 89-1 vote of April 9. Rejected by the Senate on May 13 but reconsidered and approved in a 25-8 vote of May 14. Senate amendment exempts use of hands-free cell phones. House approval of Senate changes in an 89-10 vote of May 20. Signed by the governor June 4. Took effect Aug. 1. (Thompson)
HB 797: Would bar use of handheld wireless communications devices by drivers (class E license). Hands-free cell phone operation OK. Secondary enforcement. Rejected by the House Transportation Committee on March 24. (Huval)
House Resolution 19: Recognizes April as End Distracted Driving Awareness Month in. Approved March 12. To the Senate. (Leger)
2013 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 147: Would add “social networking” as prohibited activity under existing texting & driving ban. Specifies use of a wireless communications device “to access, read or post to a social networking site.” Approved unanimously by the Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works on April 10. Approved by the Senate in a 25-9 vote of April 17. Approved unanimously by the House Committee on Transportation on May 6. Approved by the full House in a unanimous 94-0 vote of May 16. Approved again by the Senate in a 34-1 vote of May 21. Signed by the governor May 30, as Act 62. Effective Aug. 1, 2013. (Erdey)
2013 distracted driving notes:
Designed to close what appears to be a loophole in the current texting & driving ban, a law prohibiting the use of social networks while behind the wheel went into effect Aug. 1, 2013.
State Sen. Dale Erdey says his 2013 bill was created in response to police complaints that drivers could escape ticketing if they were using Twitter, Facebook or similar social media services while driving. The measure includes a detailed description of behaviors involved in using social media.
“In social networking, they are actually taking more time away from driving as opposed to a quick text,” Erdey said. “It is all about taking your eyes off the road.”
The Senate signed off on the social media measure SB 147 on April 17 and the House followed suit May 16. The bill was returned to the Senate for final sign-off, which came May 21. Only one senator voted against the plan. The governor signed the bill May 30.
The sole Senate vote against the social media ban for drivers (SB 147) came from Baton Rouge Republican Dan Claitor. The Senate had to sign off on House changes to the bill allowing drivers to use two-way radios and ham radios. Fines will be the same as those for texting and driving.
2012 distracted driving notes:
Hanging up on cell phone bill: An official of the the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission helped sink Rep. Austin Badon’s cell phone legislation. Program coordinator Bobby Breland cited 120 studies that came to no consensus on whether cell phone use causes accidents. HB 695, approved by the House, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a 1-2 vote. The chairman did not vote and three committee members did not show up.
State Rep. Austin Badon and Rep. Regina Barrow teamed up on two pieces of legislation that would have banned handheld cell phone use. HB 787 called for secondary enforcement. HB 695 called for primary enforcement. Barrow and Badon were co-sponsors of each other’s legislation.
Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, knows a thing or two about the dangers of cell phone use by drivers. She and her children were rear-ended by a woman who admitted she was on the phone at the time and didn’t see the red light.
Badon’s House Bill 695, as filed, called for a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers. “That’s not really going to pass (as a total cell phone ban) and it’s going to have a difficult time,” he said. Badon, D-New Orleans, had planned the amend the measure to allow for hands-free, but HB 787 — a bill he co-sponsored — advanced instead.
Badon filed cell phone-related bills every year since 2009. They all sought primary enforcement.
Louisiana State Police Troop L reported four fatalities in a trio of crashes linked to driver distraction in a period of four days in January.
Cell phone use was linked to 2,226 crashes in Louisiana in 2011. Other electronic devices (such as GPS) contributed to another 562. Five of those crashes resulted in fatalities, state figures show.
2012 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 695: Prohibits use of all wireless telecommunications devices while driving, including cell phones. Would repeal current laws related to minors and drivers with restricted licenses. Amended by sponsor to allow for hands-free operation. Primary enforcement. Would replace Louisiana’s existing distracted driving laws (above). Approved by the House Transportation Committee on April 24 and sent to the full House. Approved by the House in a 68-29 vote taken May 2 and transmitted to the Senate. Latest legislative action: Rejected by the Senate Transportation Committee on May 17. Apparently dead for the year. (Badon, Barrow)
HB 787: Would add cell phones to state’s ban on texting while driving. Seeks to prohibit use of wireless telecommunications devices unless hands-free. Texting (only) a moving violation. Would repeal current wireless device bans for restricted licenses holders and minor drivers. Secondary enforcement. Amended and advanced by the House Transportation Committee in a 9-7 vote taken April 16. (Barrow, Badon)
Note: HB 695 calls for primary enforcement while HB 787 proposes secondary enforcement.
2011 distracted driving notes:
Louisiana traffic accident figures for 2011 show that electronic distracted driving played a role in 2,788 crashes, five of which resulted in fatalities.
In 2011, the House shot down HB 338, which would have prohibited all drivers in Louisiana from using handheld cell phones while driving. It called for primary enforcement. The June 10, 2011, roll call vote was 55-33 against enactment of the plan from Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes, D-New Orleans.
A similar measure, HB 337, was rejected by the House Transportation Committee on May 17, 2011. It called for secondary enforcement of its proposed ban on handheld cell phones.
The News-Star puzzled over the Legislature’s unwillingness to adopt a handheld cell phone law for drivers, noting on June 11 that the state “already has outlawed texting while driving, so lawmakers obviously recognize a danger exists with distracted drivers.” The Monroe newspaper’s editorial board went on to remind voters that lawmakers “cited their own (phoning and driving) practices as their excuse for defeating the legislation. One lawmaker even tried to exempt legislators from the proposed law.”
HB 387 seeks to allow the use of split-screen in-dash monitors, found in a few vehicles such as those in the Mercedes S-Class (SplitView). These dashboard screens allow front passengers to watch movies or television while the driver sees only navigational elements. The federal Department of Transportation has yet to take a stand on the new wave of vehicle entertainment systems such as those that access the Internet.
2011 distracted driving legislation (dead):
Louisiana House Bill 337: Requires drivers using cell phones or other electronic communications devices to employ a hands-free device and apply a “high degree of caution.” Secondary enforcement. Fines: $100 (first offense) then $150 (second)/$200/$250. Rejected by the House Transportation Committee in a 5-8 vote taken May 17. (Badon)
HB 338: Would prohibit operators of motor vehicles from using handheld wireless telecommunication devices such as cell phones. Includes PCs. Primary offense. Fine: $125 plus costs. Rejected by the House in a 55-33 vote taken June 10. Dead. (Stiaes)
HB 387: Would strike and replace state law against having a video screen in a vehicle unless it’s located behind the driver’s seat. Bill’s intent is to to authorize use of split-view screens in which passengers can view entertainment such as TV broadcasts, but the driver cannot. The new law would prohibit use of any TV/video screen that can be seen by driver while vehicle is in motion. Installers not allowed to install entertainment screens that are visible to driver. (Burrell)
Louisiana Senate Bill 9: Upgrades the existing law prohibiting text messaging to primary enforcement status, meaning law officers can stop and cite violators solely for that offense. Also applies to ban on use of wireless telecommunications devices by youngest drivers. Fines would remain at $175 (first offense) and then up to $500. Insurance company notification of offenses. (Louisiana Act 203)
SB 9 was advanced to the full Senate by the transportation committee on April 15 and approved by the Senate on April 21 in a 22-9 vote. Approved by the House (with minor changes) in a 69-22 vote on June 2. Back to the Senate for final sign-off, which came June 7 in a 32-0 vote. Latest action: Signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 17; goes into effect Sunday, Aug. 15. (Gautreaux)
House Bill 863: Prohibits texting and handheld cell phone use for all drivers. Does not include hands-free operation of mobile phones and use of two-way radios. Primary offense. Fine of $125 plus court costs. Originally a separate distracted driving law for commercial vehicle operators, but amended to include all drivers with sponsors’ backing. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on April 27 (a 12-2 vote) and sent to the full House. Failed to advance in the House after two votes. Dead as of May 17. (Stiaes, Leger)
HB 1235: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones and other electronic communications devices for all drivers. Primary enforcement. Fines $100 (first offense)/$150/$200/$250. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on April 27 (a 12-2 vote) and sent to the full House. (Badon)
HB 134: Would establish that in liability cases, drivers using handheld electronic devices would be assumed to be at fault for any accident — “prima facie.” No activity in committee. (Abramson)
2010 legislation notes:
HB 863 started life as a ban on handheld cell phone use by commercial truck drivers, but it was amended in committee to apply to all drivers. State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, wrote the amendment: “It is getting worse and worse day by day,” he said of drivers using cell phones.
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission reports that cell phone-related fatalities were up to 16 in 2009, and probably underreported. In 2005, the number was six. The Commission later reported that 52 traffic fatalities were blamed on cell phone use between 2005 and 2009.
A 2009 attitudinal survey of Louisiana drivers conducted for the commission and the Department of Transportation found 81.9 percent of respondents considered it dangerous to use a cell phone while driving.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is testing technology that reroutes incoming phone calls and text messages when a handheld device is in a vehicle in motion. The pilot program is using DOT vehicles.
SB 9 sponsor Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, said he proposed the stiffening of texting fines after following a driver he assumed to be drunk. The driver was texting, he told a transportation committee hearing on April 9.
Louisiana House Bill 146: Seeks to ban use of cell phones while driving on Louisiana’s roads unless a hands-free device is employed. Also would prohibit text messaging and emailing via various devices. The handheld cell phone ban was approved by the House Transportation Committee on May 18, 2009, and sent to the House floor for a full debate. It was approved by the House on May 27, but with an amendment that watered down the plan by making violations a secondary offense. Sent to the Senate where the handheld cell phone legislationwas “voluntarily deferred” by the frustrated sponsor, Rep. Austin Badon of New Orleans. Badon missed a key hearing, saying he was delayed in traffic, but it appears the bill was doomed anyway.
Rep. Austin Badon fought a House amendment to his HB 146 that reduced violations to a secondary offense, meaning police would need another reason for pulling over drivers. “We don’t need to water this down,” Badon told fellow representatives. The amendment was approved on a 56-40 vote and HB 146 then passed on a 57-41.
Badon missed the June 9 committee hearing on his HB 146 because he was stuck in traffic, reports said. The representative said it didn’t matter — he withdrew the handheld cell phone legislation from consideration after a hostile reception the week before in the Senate Transportation committee.
Badon tried again with HB 146 after his previous hands-free bill was approved in the House but died in the full Senate. Badon’s 2009 cell phone legislation calls for fines of $100 for a first-time violation, $150 for a second, $200 for a third and $250 for all others. Enforcement would have begin Jan. 1, 2010. He plans to renew the fight in 2010.
Badon makes an interesting point about the advantages of keeping cell phones out of drivers’ hands: “The sight of someone holding a phone while driving erratically also can anger other drivers, creating even more danger in traffic.”
The 2009 legislative session in Louisiana began April 27 and ended June 25, later than in most states.
The texting prohibition and the cell phone restrictions on young drivers took effect Aug. 15, 2008. The sponsor was Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie.
The state Highway Safety Commission reports that cell phones were a factor in 2,187 accidents during 2008, including 10 fatalities.
HB 402, passed by the House and Senate in May 2008, prohibits school bus drivers from using cell phones. The law was inspired by a citizen complaint about a chatty driver
“We want our school bus drivers, who have precious commodities, our children, to focus on driving,” said Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston.
California state Sen. Joe Simitian, who wrote the famous California hands-free laws, said he consulted with a legislator in Louisiana about similar bills.