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N.C. Highway Patrol sergeant: No truth to rumors about cell phones and motorists

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
A rumor circulating through the state says the use of hand-held cell phones by North Carolina motorists will be outlawed July 1.
Such news may be wishful thinking, but there’s no truth to it, said 1st Sgt. B.E. Hower of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
“Everybody’s under that belief,” Hower said of reports that cell phone use by drivers will be banned come July.
“Right now, it’s just an urban legend. The legislature is considering it, but at this point, there’s no law.”
Not that it shouldn’t be, Hower and virtually any other law enforcement officer will say. Hower said most drivers have enough trouble keeping their attention on the road without adding to the mix dialing and answering a hand-held cell phone.
He said the worst case of cell phone abuse he witnessed involved a woman who was using her left hand to hold a cell phone and her right hand to hold a sandwich. She was also in the process of making a right-hand turn, Hower said.
“That was awfully difficult for her,” he said.
Hower said when he stops a motorist who’s driving erratically while talking on a cell phone, he typically gives them a stern lecture about the perils of doing so.
“If you must talk, do so on a limited basis,” Hower said. “If you must talk, use a hands-free phone.”
Five states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington), the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have enacted jurisdiction-wide cell phone laws prohibiting driving while talking on hand-held cell phones.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have special cell phone driving laws for novice drivers. North Carolina is one of those states, banning cell phone use by drivers under 18.
North Carolina also bans cell phone use by school bus drivers.
But unless you fall into one of those two classifications, you’re free to chat on your cell phone to your heart’s content ó regardless of how annoying or pointless the conversation might be.
“I have no idea what could be so important that these people feel obligated to talk on their phones as much as they do,” Hower said.
Neither does state Rep. Fred Steen, who represents Rowan County in the House.
He said there was talk earlier this year of enacting a ban on hand-held cell phones by motorists, but the ban has yet to come to fruition.
Steen mentioned the fact that 16- and 17-year-old drivers can’t talk on their phones while driving, but noted that with the exception of them and school bus drivers, anyone else can have at it.
“I think we shot that thing down last year,” Steen said of possible legislation that would ban talking on the phone while driving. “That thing is dead in the water, I think.”
Steen noted that if House members were being asked to consider such legislation in the current short session, he’d surely be aware of it.
“I’d have 15 lobbyists in my office telling me not to do it and 15 more telling me to do it,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything like that.”
The rumor about the cell phone ban apparently stems from an Internet hoax. Many people and agencies have received copies of the e-mail.
The restrictions referred to in the bogus e-mail are part of California law. Someone simply substituted North Carolina for California and circulated the fake e-mail across the state.A number of people apparently believe everything they read on the Internet is true.
It isn’t.
Several sources have reported that the e-mail hoax has prompted an upswing in cell phone users buying hands-free devices from telephone dealers.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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