Hand-held phone use in car could soon cost $100
CONCORD, N.H. -- Officials are considering traffic signs, radio announcements and brochures as ways to educate drivers that holding a cellphone up to the ear to talk while driving or sitting in traffic will be illegal a year from now in New Hampshire.
Gov. Maggie Hassan is expected to sign a bill that makes hand-held cellphone use punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense. The price rises to $250 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses within a 24-month period.
The bill allows adults to talk on cellphones while driving if they use hands-free phones, devices built into the vehicle and two-way radios.
The ban would apply while drivers are stopped temporarily, such as at a red light, but not if they have pulled over and are stopped off the road. The bill allows answering the phone but not holding it to the ear or typing emails or other messages. It also does not allow programming GPS systems unless drivers are pulled off the road.
The bill also would ban all cellphone use by minors behind the wheel. Emergency calls are exempt for all drivers.
Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said she has not received the bill but likely will sign it.
"Gov. Hassan believes that we must continue to find ways to improve the safety of our roads by reducing distracted driving," he said.
The law would take effect July 1, 2015. Meanwhile, the bill requires the state to begin a targeted public education program to alert drivers to the law's requirements.
Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney said the state is considering using traffic signs, radio talk shows, public service announcements on radio and television, brochures and a section in the driver's manual used by first-time drivers as education tools. Brochures will be placed at liquor stores, rest areas, ski areas and other sites visited by nonresidents to reach that audience, Sweeney said.
When people request New Hampshire travel guides, information about the cellphone law also could be included, he said.
"We anticipate that once the law kicks in, many law enforcement agencies will be a bit lenient until they are satisfied the word has spread," Sweeney wrote in an email.
Drivers can use a variety of ways to comply with the law and still talk on their phones. For example, drivers can attach a Bluetooth device to an older car's sun visor and sync it to their cellphone.
Newer cars can also make hands-free calls through Bluetooth integrated into the car's system, he said.
State law currently bans typing and sending text messages while driving but does not prohibit reading text messages, surfing the Internet, dialing cellphones or programming GPS devices while driving.
Twelve states prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones and 44 states ban text messaging, according to the Governors' Highway Safety Association.
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