Committee Approves Bill That Would Ban Using Phones Behind the Wheel

BATON ROUGE (The Center Square) – Unrelated measures against using a hand-held phone while driving and illegal drag racing were approved by a Louisiana committee in the House of Representatives on Monday.

The Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works approved several bills related to driving. The proposal involving drag racing, often called street takeovers, would allow impoundment of vehicles for up to 30 days.

Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, would make hand-held use of a phone behind the wheel a secondary offense that could be added to another offense, such as speeding or reckless driving. It couldn’t be used as a motivation for a traffic stop in and of itself. 

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The bill was reported favorably and will be headed to the House floor for a vote. 

McMath told the committee that Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Carolina have similar legislation that makes phone use behind the wheel a secondary offense. Georgia’s bill differs in that it is a primary offense. 

SB98, which passed the Senate by a 33-6 vote on April 8, would also make use of a wireless device in a school zone or construction work zone a primary offense that law enforcement could use to pull over a vehicle for a traffic stop.

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McMath also said his bill consolidates four laws governing use of hand-held devices behind the wheel into one.  

Senate Bill 220, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Kleinpeter, R-Port Allen, would allow law enforcement officers to impound vehicles involved in illegal street racing for up to 30 days for evidentiary reasons at the cost of the vehicle owner. The bill passed the Senate unanimously April 9 and the committee reported it favorably with an amendment to put the burden of paying for an impounded rental vehicle to the renter, not the rental car company. 

“There are legal race tracks throughout this state and people can participate legally,” Kleinpeter said. “You can search street racing in the news and there are articles every day where this happens and in many incidents, there are people who are injured or even killed. After the Garth Brooks concert in Baton Rouge last year, College Drive was closed off to perform burnouts and races.

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“This caused havoc in the city and jeopardized the safety and well-being of the public since law enforcement or emergency vehicles could not reach the area due to the traffic it created. We want to send the message that shutting down streets and causing havoc will not be tolerated.”

Kleinpeter also said he was asked by numerous district attorneys for the power to impound vehicles involved in these events. 

The committee also approved Senate Bill 379 by Sen. Blake Miguez that would stop the speed cameras on the Atchafalaya River Basin Bridge on Interstate 10. It was passed by the Senate unanimously on April 9. 

By Steve Wilson

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