No More Hand-Held Cell Phones for D.C. Drivers
Under New Law,
Motorists Face $100 Fine Beginning in July
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2004; 5:20 PM
Motorists in Washington, D.C. who use a cellular phone without a hands-free device while driving will face a $100 fine beginning in July under legislation passed today by the D.C. Council.
The new law, approved by a vote of 12-1, will apply to all drivers in the city, regardless of whether they live in Washington. Exceptions will be allowed in cases of emergencies and for police and emergency medical personnel who are on duty. D.C. Council members said the law was necessary to help curb automobile accidents by forcing drivers to think about using their cell phones safely. Although many jurisdictions across the country have similar laws, the only statewide ban exists in New York.
"I have seen people just chatting away with one hand on the wheel," said Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), one of the architects of the legislation. "At least now we'll get two hands on the wheel." She added: "This is a densely populated city. We're not on the lonesome roads of Texas. . . . I have not received one e-mail against this. Most people realize its day has come."
But not everyone agreed with the action, including Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who cast the lone dissenting vote. Graham said the council should not create laws that will take away police attention from more serious crimes, such as murders and robberies. "In a time when we had more police, a time when we had a greater sense of confidence in what our police are accomplishing, I would be with this," Graham said. "But in this particular time, when we're finding out about our homicide rate and realizing there's an increasing number of robberies, I can't see devoting major police resources to this issue."
Homicides declined slightly in the District in 2003 -- to 247 -- but the city still ranks first in the nation in killings per capita among cities with a population over 500,000. Cell phone industry lobbyists also objected to the ban, as did some highway safety advocates. They argued that there is not sufficient research to show that such laws have decreased automobile accidents. Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the publicly funded Governors Highway Safety Association, said his organization fears that drivers will think it is acceptable to make cellular calls with a hands-free device, such as an earpiece. "We want drivers to get the message that they shouldn't use a cell at all while driving," Adkins said. "We're also a little concerned that we do not want other states to take the momentum to do this type of thing. There's really not a lot of research to show that it's going to be effective."