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May 11, 2014

Cellphone use getting more restrictive in New England

New England states crack down on cellphone use, distracted driving

(Continued)

Talking on a phone or texting both fall under the broader category of distracted driving, which also includes talking to passengers, tuning the radio, eating, programming a GPS and reaching for something.

Opponents question need, enforceability

Opponents of tougher cellphone laws point to those other activities as equally dangerous — and invasive.

Londonderry Rep. Al Baldasaro, in a hearing before the Senate last month, wondering whether there was an end to such regulation. Would smoking or hair-brushing be next, he speculated.

Others suggested laws preventing such behavior could actually increase the risk from drivers who refuse to stop the practice, but endanger themselves and others further through furtive behavior — hiding a device below the wheel, for example, to avoid detection.

“Teens won’t obey the law, they will just lower the device and possibly increase accidents,” Derry Rep. Brian Chirichiello told a Senate committee.

Drivers are prohibited from texting in all but seven states nationwide, including all of New England. New Hampshire has banned texting at the wheel since 2009, but police and prosecutors say the law is tough to enforce, even tougher to prosecute.

House Bill 1360 is expected to make it easier for police to catch scofflaws.

N.H. State Police have taken the lead in what Lt. Matt Shapiro said will require “a cultural change.” As of April 1, all state police cruisers have been equipped with wireless technology for hands-free device usage.

Granite State drivers will have some time to get used to the idea. The law isn’t scheduled to take effect until July 1, 2015 — and a mandatory public education campaign will precede that.

It’s much the same in Vermont, where lawmakers delayed the effective date to allow for public education. There, the ban on hand-held devices starts Oct. 1, after a two-month public education campaign.

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