CONCORD — The New Hampshire House yesterday approved a bill that would prevent drivers from using hand-held cellphones and bar drivers under age 18 from using a cellphone of any kind.
House Bill 1360 now moves to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk and she is likely to sign it into law, according to her press secretary.
The bill has widespread support from law enforcement, public health, transportation officials and auto dealers.
But it does have its opponents, including Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, and Rep. Brian Chirichiello, R-Derry, both of whom spoke against the bill before the Senate Transportation Committee last month.
But highway safety officials were convincing in their arguments in support of passage, citing increasing accidents, some fatal, directly related to distracted driving.
In the past three years, 27 percent of fatal accidents in the state were attributable to distracted drivers, resulting in 124 victims.
“This would be the most comprehensive distracted driving bill in the nation,” said Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of public safety. “This is the single most needed piece of highway safety legislation this year.”
Chirichiello produced documentation from his own research, supporting his argument that laws of this kind don’t reduce accidents. He also cited studies which claimed cellphone use accounts for just 3 percent of distracted driving crashes.
“I recognize it’s an issue, a problem,” he testified, “but I don’t think this law is going to solve the problem.”
New Hampshire would become the 13th state to ban hand-held devices behind the wheel. It already is one of 41 states to prohibit texting while driving.
Bill proponents said the state’s texting and distracted driving laws are tough to enforce and even tougher to prosecute.
Lawmakers heard from county attorneys and law enforcement officials who said the current laws aren’t enough.
They also heard from the families of people injured or killed in accidents involving distracted drivers.