Ban on hand-held driver phones fails

Rep. Mike Huval pulled a phone out of a Dollar General bag during one debate on his bill to ban hand-held phones while driving. (Photo by Allison Kadlubar / LSU Manship School News Service)

BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly rejected a bill to ban hand-held driver phones after a handful of amendments, debates and product demonstrations.

The bill would have allowed law enforcement to ticket anyone caught with a cell phone in hand while driving.

“This bill is a wireless cell phone hands-free bill,” the author of the bill, state Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, said. “It does not keep you from using a cell phone when you're driving. It just requires you to do it in a safe manner.”

The bill failed in the House 48-46. Prior to the vote, however, lawmakers discussed the bill with intense debates.

Lawmakers adopted eight amendments to alter the bill since it was first proposed in the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works on March 14.

Amendments increased maximum fines from $100 to $300 as well as community service from 15 hours to 90 hours.

The amended bill also would have prohibited officers from arresting an individual who was caught with a phone in hand while driving even if the officer observed illegal activities or items in the car.

State Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, argued the ban might still prompt an officer to abuse his power.

“I'm going to submit to you that, if he walks up to the vehicle and visibly observes an open container in the console, they’re going to find a reason to detain you and get a search warrant,” Brown said.