By MELINDA DESLATTE / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- It appears Louisiana drivers won't face new limits on their cellphone use.
An annual effort seeking to prohibit hand-held cellphone use by motorists stalled Monday in the House Transportation Committee. After facing widespread resistance, Republican Rep. Mike Huval, of Breaux Bridge, voluntarily shelved his proposal.
Supporters of the bill said it would help reduce distracted driving and could help lower insurance rates.
"The statistics are pretty overwhelming. Anytime a person is manipulating a cellphone in the car, it's double or three times the regular risk of having an accident," said Louis Fey, with the Louisiana Property and Casualty Insurance Commission.
Fey said Louisiana has among the highest insurance rates in the nation, and he said reducing the risk of accidents by limiting cellphone use while driving could help cut those costs.
"Hopefully, this would play a small piece in making us better drivers," Huval said.
Opponents said the measure arbitrarily picks on one type of distracted driving and criticized it as a "nanny state" bill. Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said the measure seemed too broad.
"What about eating and putting on makeup?" said Rep. Terry Brown, I-Colfax, calling those just as dangerous on the road. "A lady hit me reading the newspaper."
Huval tried to lessen criticism by proposing that the ban would be a secondary offense. That would mean a police officer couldn't stop someone for talking on a hand-held phone, but could issue a citation only if stopping a driver for another violation.
That didn't persuade lawmakers.
While the committee was not receptive to the hand-held cellphone ban, lawmakers on the panel did back a bill that would prohibit the use of speed cameras and other automated speed enforcement devices on interstates.
Louisiana doesn't have any such programs yet.
But Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, said municipalities have been approached by a private company proposing to introduce speed cameras on interstate highways, a method that would use a hand-held device to record speeds and send violators a ticket through the mail. The company would split the citation payment with the local law enforcement agency.
He said such programs don't give people the ability to offer an explanation for their speeding or defend themselves, and he said they seem to prioritize generating income over public safety.
Landry didn't oppose Danahay's bill, but he raised concerns. He said that speeding drivers cause accidents and that enforcement cameras discourage the behavior.
"How do we deter people who break the speed limit religiously and put the driving public at risk?" he said.
Danahay said police officers can continue stopping speeders that they identify on the highway.
The bill was approved without objection and heads next to the House floor for debate.