Cell phones

Cell phones are pictured in this AP file photo.

A bill that would make it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving won approval Thursday in the state Senate Transportation Committee.

The vote was 5-1 and the proposal next faces action in the full Senate.

Similar efforts have been tried for years in the Legislature without success, including a near identical bill rejected by the state House last year.

Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington and sponsor of the legislation, said 19 other states have similar laws.

McMath said Louisiana already bans texting while driving but that measure is all but impossible to enforce.

"You can be on your phone for just about anything else," he told the committee.

McMath said hand-held cell phones contribute to accidents, fender benders and fatalities.

He said there are "pages and pages of statistics" that spell out the dangers of distracted driving.

The office of state Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon backed the measure.

Richard Brown, president of the civic group Citizens for a Better Kenner, urged the committee to reject the measure.

"The bottom line is it is a feel good bill that has a good purpose," Brown said. "We all want to do something about distracted driving."

"But when it comes to talking on a cell phone all of the science, all of the studies, show holding the phone is not the problem," he said.

Brown said the "mental distraction" caused by the conversation is the problem.

"There are countless studies that show that," he said.

"If you google whether hands free are any safer than hand held you are going to find article after article, study after study, that says no," Brown said. 

"There is no evidence that hands-free phones are any safer."

State law bans the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in school zones.

The proposal, which is Senate Bill 50, would make using a hand-held cell phone while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could stop violators for that offense alone rather than as part of another reason for a stop.

The lone "no" vote on the committee was cast by Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport.

Voting for the bill were Sens. McMath, Louie Bernard, R-Natchitoches, J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, Ed Price, D-Gonzales and Gary Smith, D-Norco.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.